Listen to the full interview here.
The Song Keepers is a wonderful and inspiring documentary about The Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir, which is made up of four generations of women from five communities in Central Australia.
Director Naina Sen had the fortune to be invited into one of their rehearsals and she knew straight away that the story of these women, the choir and a tour to Germany would make for rich documentary pickings. She knew she was witnessing something profound.
She was not wrong, The Song Keepers is an inspiring account of this journey – and the history of what they sing; music that was bought to Central Australia 140 years ago by Lutheran Missionaries, and translated into Western Arrente, one of the most complex languages in the world within three years. These hymns are set to Baroque music and the confluence of language that has been spoken for 40 000 with these deeply spiritual tunes is profound.
“The reason 32 women wanted to do this film is because they really, really wanted to share their music and this identity, and this history they are so proud of with the rest of the country, I think every Australian should see this film because these women are amongst the most extraordinary human beings you will ever meet,” said director Naina Sen on her recent visit to Tasmania for the Hobart premiere of the film.
The film shares a depth of cultural connection through time and space. Within a few years of the missionaries arriving in the desert, senior Arrente Law Men, took the music and the gospel, in language to surrounding communities.
‘If you codify language you preserve it, you preserve language, you preserve culture,” Sen said..
While the Lutheran missionaries left these communities in the early 1980s, and the men of the communities drifted away from choirs, towards Country Music, the women’s choirs remained strong.
‘140 year old choral music doesn’t survive without a conscious decision to retain the music,
‘It can not survive without an incredibly conscious distilling.’
Sen, who grew up in New Delhi, India came to Australia to study film. She thanks her younger self for being “foolish...brave...whatever it is,” as she travelled from Melbourne to Darwin and has spent the last decade working in Norther Australia and the desert.
Working up there has redefined Australia for her & what it means to call this country her own "it's an extraordinary privilege to be able to collaborate with extraordinary artists and musicians and painters who represent the depth of the oldest continuously living culture in the world in their work, and to have access to that, to be able to share something, to be able to collaborate -...."
"To me it is collaborating with people I have longstanding relationships with, who I love, who are my friends, and through whom I have a completely different understaning of this country, I am very privileged to do what I do, to me it is collaboration between artists”.
To listen to the full interview listen here.