Originally published in the National Indigenous Times, February 2007.
By Amy McQuire
IT’S NOT everyday you’ll find an album where Archie Roach sings alongside Missy Higgins and the Pigram Brothers share the same stage with Bernard Fanning.
Add to that an electric mix of Troy Cassar-Daley, Augie March, The John Butler Trio, The Waifs and Tex Perkins and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s just another compilation with the sole purpose of showcasing Australia’s top artists.
Well, you’d be partly right.
Aboriginal singer/songwriter Kev Carmody’s new album Cannot Buy My Soul: The Songs of Kev Carmody is set to be one of the most acclaimed of the year, with 19 of Australia’s most prominent musicians paying homage to his long and successful career.
Kev is often described as one of Australia’s most respected musicians and is considered one of the most prominent Aboriginal ambassadors for this country. His unique folk style has garnered national and international attention and his songs have become anthems for Aboriginal rights.
His new album will feature artists putting their own interpretation on some of Kev’s classics like Thou Shalt Not Steal and Eulogy of a Black Man.
“It’s a collective project,” Kev says. “You can’t just pick one song out of the album, it’s like a book.”
It was a project developed and recorded by respected Australian musician Paul Kelly, who describes Kev as “one of our great cultural treasures”.
“[Paul] actually mentioned it to me two or three years ago,” Kev says.
“He contacted a local company… but what really surprised us was how quickly people responded.
“We thought four or five people would be interested but in the end we were thinking, how are we going to fit all these people in?”
But they were able to fit them in and the result is a unique collection of songs with varying interpretations, for which Kev explains he had no input.
“I had absolutely no direct interaction,” Kev says.
“Some rang up like Bernard Fanning to get the full story. Missy Higgins contacted me to find out what Drover Woman was about.
“Paul said you do it how you want to.
“I think that’s the great part of this album… they did everything themselves.
“I was so blown away with the tremendous versions of the songs like the one from John Butler.
“He rang me up and he said ‘I’ve picked Thou shalt steal.’
“He said, ‘It’s gotta be done. It’s gotta be done’.”
All of Kev’s songs, with one on the album dating back to the late 60s, are still relevant today, a fact he says is sad but also important to acknowledge.
“It’s the saddest thing in the world that some of the songs I wrote 30 years ago are still relevant today,” Kev says.
The Last Kinection did The Young Dancer is Dead.
“We got Palm Island and Aurukun and the young children changing the issues into hip hop form.
“We’re still saying the same things.
“When you come up to The Herd (who sang Comrade Jesus Christ) they updated it. They even talked about the Cronulla riots… they updated it to make sense with the younger generation.”
The loss of the political voice in music is also a worrying thing for the man who has been described as the Aboriginal Bob Dylan, so much so that he has come up with a new term to describe the current music industry – E3.
“There’s a huge article in Rolling Stone (January edition) about that very fact (the political voice) and the point is I think it’s because mainstream commercial music has censored it out of existence… it doesn’t fit their retailing focus,” Kev says.
“I’ve invented a new term for commercial retail music – E3 music – economics, entertainment, ego.
“You’ve got to have a little term that isolates that commercial retail music.”
And even though Kev’s new album is definitely not in the same line as ‘commercial retail’, it looks as if it will be a commercial success.
“I’m very surprised by the commercial networks… they’re starting to get on to us,” Kev says. “Radio stations that didn’t play my music before.
“Hopefully a shift will open up the door for people that aren’t getting a look in. There’s heaps of people’s music out there.”
Cannot Buy My Soul: The Songs of Kev Carmody will be released as a two disc set on February 17.