Music for the socially conscious


White Moth

Xavier Rudd

Universal, 2007

14 tracks, $22.99

Like the John Butler Trio, Xavier Rudd has built up a loyal fan base in recent years by delivering energetic live concerts. His music connects with his fans through a powerful combination of instrumental skill and lyrics that capture messages of social and environmental justice.

White Moth entered the Australian charts in the top 10 albums list when it was released in June. It's not hard to work out why. In April this year, I first heard some tracks from White Moth at Rudd's gig at Kuranda Amphitheatre in far north Queensland. For a crowd of 800 people, under the stars, it was a magical night. Diversity marked the experience of Rudd as a performer — from getting up and dancing to reggae and blues sounds to music that draws the audience into his private world as it is plucked from his heart and spirit and humbly delivered. He sounds as though he has a whole band with him as he switches from guitar, Yidakis (didgeridoos), slide guitar, stomp boxes, djembes, harmonica, drums and other percussion.

Rudd's performances always pay respect to Australia's Aboriginal traditional owners. The Kuranda gig commenced with welcome to country and a local didgeridoo performance. During the gig Rudd invited the audience to join him on stage. The image of people of all ages, sizes and backgrounds dancing and enjoying themselves together, reflected back to the audience, was beautiful.

On White Moth, Rudd has bared his heart and the music has a positive energy. There are what I can only describe as "feel good" tracks, such as "Better People", "Twist" and "Come Let Go". These, although it might be hard to imagine in the cold southern states of Australia just now, really suit being listened to on an open verandah or out under the trees. The "summer vibe" on this album will be perfectly matched to its environment when Rudd's White Moth tour of Australia kicks off in October and runs until December.

"Better People" is Rudd's tribute to the people who deserve more credit for their environmental and social justice activism. Listening to the track, I thought about Sydney activist Gail Lord, an inspiration for many activists of all ages over the past 40 years, who recently lost her battle with cancer.

The track "Footprint" examines the damage being done by global warming. Many of the other tracks on this album relate to Rudd's journey as a parent and the time spent with his partner and children. The tracks "Land Rights", "Anni Kookoo", "Message Stick" and "Whispers" all reflect the deep respect Rudd has for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their struggles against oppression and for justice.

As Rudd's lyric sheet for "Land Rights" explains, "in the 1950s, exploration for bauxite deposits began in northeast Arnhem Land without the consent of the traditional Yolngu land owners and in later years the [Gove] mine was established. In 1963 senior representatives from 13 clans prepared the Yirrkala Bark petition which was presented to federal parliament. This action was taken by the Yolngu people to secure their rights within the Australian legal system. Despite efforts to gain land rights and protection of Yolngu sacred sites, in 1969 two major sites belonging to creation ancestor Wuyal were desecrated.

"When Yolngu discovered the desecration, they were angry and deeply saddened. Senior men took their spears to the top of Nhulun (one of the sacred sites) and performed a special ceremony, demanding land rights and respect for their sacred places. This ceremony is known as the Land Rights Galtha Bunggul (ceremony). In 1976 the Land Rights Act (NT) 1976 was passed and the land was handed back to the traditional owners."

The song's hopefulness can't help but be overshadowed by the federal government's recent land grab in the Northern Territory to turn back Indigenous land rights. However, the response to such songs demonstrates Howard may not win public opinion on this issue.

Rudd's website has consistently reported social justice issues and provided forums for his fans to have their say. Campaigns have included one of outrage at the 2006 report endorsed by federal education minister Julie Bishop that suggested that Aboriginal children should not be taught their culture in schools because it prevents them from progressing in their mainstream education. Rudd has also supported campaigns such as Surfers against Sewage, campaigns to save Tasmania's southern forests and responses to climate change.

Don't miss your chance to see arguably Australia's best solo performer as Rudd hits the road in Tasmania, Queensland, NSW, Victoria, the ACT and South Australia (tour details at <>). For a taste of what the live gigs will be like, you can't go past Rudd's Good Spirit album. Classic tracks "Messages", "Let Me Be" and "A 4th World" are my all-time favourites.

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