Utungan Percussion


Utungan Percussion

By Katrina Dean

They were clad in purple, baggy clothes and top hats with streamers, drums around their necks and shells around their ankles — full body groovin'! This is Utungan Percussion.

This Sydney-based five-piece band produces a rhythm that is mesmerising. Utungan Percussion (UP for short) create their music using the rhythms of indigenous peoples from around the world, identifying the origins for the audience as they go.

Combining different drums and percussion instruments, voice and movement, the total effect is one of compulsive energy. Whether it be amongst the trees at Jackys Marsh (the wilderness area in north Tasmania) or the lawns at the wharf in Hobart, or in a hotel bar, listeners find their own space and begin to dance and clap and call out in response to the rhythm.

UP came together three months ago, performing first at the Maleny folk festival in Queensland, then during Sydney's Carnivale festival. The band had just spent a week at the Jackys Marsh Forest Festival, ending with a few days in Hobart. In this short time UP have shown themselves to be a talented group of musicians who are eager and able to fill a void in the Australian music scene.

Green Left Weekly spoke to members of Utungan Percussion at one of their recent Hobart gigs. The band adopted the name Utungan after an Aboriginal place name in northern NSW. Band member Greg said UP were keen to produce music that does not originate from European or American models of rock and jazz, but concentrates on indigenous cultures and multiculturalism.

UP agree on the need for a green perspective in their music and support the claims of Australian indigenous people against European invasion. The band refused to play in the Sydney Carnivale Australia Day "celebrations". They are opposed to the orientation of the music industry towards putting profit above cultural, social and political issues.

It will be bands like UP who help redefine our musical culture. They are open and inclusive and encourage people not only to enjoy their music but also to participate. They have no qualms about sharing their skills. This could be seen particularly in one drumming workshop conducted by UP at the Jackys Marsh festival: more than 100 people created an amazing percussion jam by listening to each other and working collectively.

UP have a tape available that gives a broad selection of their music and are intending to make a CD. They are also available for gigs. To get hold of the tape or contact the band, phone Sue Anderson on (02) 818 5963.