The culture and languages of First Nations peoples now feature prominently at the National Folk Festival in Canberra.
The five-day event is back in the nation’s capital after a two-year hiatus due to COVID disruptions, with a lineup of Australian-only acts.
The festival, which started in Melbourne in 1967 then moved to Canberra 30 years ago, this year has 13 stages and more than 200 acts.
National Folk Festival artistic director Katie Noonan said she was delighted the festival was back after its two-year hiatus, as one of the first major musical gatherings in Canberra since the lockdowns were lifted.
“We secretly hoped of course that we would be back with all the wonderful colors and sounds of the festival, but there has been so much uncertainty over the past few years and we are once again one of the first big gatherings of music festivals. in Canberra,” she said.
Ms Noonan said that when arranging this year’s lineup, COVID forced them not to include international acts, but said she saw it as an opportunity to celebrate Australian artists.
“Back when I was starting to program there was still a lot of uncertainty about international borders, and to be honest we weren’t even sure we’d be able to get people from WA to us. Luckily the internal borders in Australia are all open now for everyone to come in, but we’ve decided not to do international,” she said.
“One of the positive things about COVID is that we’ve realized how amazing Australian artists are, and I think that’s helped us get over our cultural thrill of thinking people overseas are better. That just isn’t true.”
Expanding the “people’s church” through the celebration of the Ngunnawal language
The theme for this year’s folk festival is “Find your home, find your family, find your people”, a message Ms Noonan says is about connecting to place, culture and community.
She said her goal for the festival was to connect to Ngunnawal country through language sharing on stage, a goal that has seen many artists perform songs in the Ngunnawal language.
“I had a few priorities, but the main one was to make sure we connected to the Ngunnawal country we were in,” she said.
“We worked with the Ngunnawal Language Alumni Committee to put My Island Home in language, and people put it in their set throughout the festival.
This year’s festival was opened by iconic First Nations singer-songwriter Uncle Archie Roche, and will be closed by First Nations band Yothu Yindi.
Ms Noonan said the inclusion of multicultural acts was an important part of moving away from the traditional, rigid idea of what people should look like to a more multicultural exploration of the genre.
“[We’re] broadening the church of folk, moving it further away from the more traditional Anglo-Celtic folk, which of course is hugely important, but it’s no longer a full definition of Australian folk,” she said.
“It’s a deeply loved festival, it’s in a period of transition because some of the old folks who were with us at the start are no longer with us, so we’re kind of bringing in the new generation of folkies and their kids for the stroll .”