He is a beloved First Nations singer songwriter and a household name, but for a time Archie Roach didn’t even know his own name.
Tell Me Why, Archie’s new album and memoir (out today), is the story of how one man’s struggle to find his identity, family and sense of belonging ultimately led him to narrate his journey through words and through song and go on to perform on stages throughout the world. It follows his struggle to find the will to keep living following the tragic loss of his soul mate, life partner and muse, Ruby Hunter, a highly acclaimed singer songwriter in her own right, and the first Indigenous woman to sign a record deal in this country.
Archie says, “writing my life story has been somewhat of a surreal and strange experience… It surprised me to realise just how far I have come from that dark place of being disconnected from my family, country and identity to where I am now. I have seen and heard stories about people who have overcome adversity to do deadly things; I just never thought that I could be one of those people. Writing my story and recording this companion album has made me a stronger person and further empowered me. Look out!”
The long-awaited memoir (Simon & Schuster) is an intimate, moving and often confronting account of his resilience and strength of spirit, and also a great love story. It’s an extraordinary odyssey of love and heartbreak, family and community, survival and renewal – and the healing power of music.
For from being a compilation of his past works, the companion album could be considered Roach’s ‘magnum opus’. The 18 song Tell Me Why double album re-imagines eleven songs which have defined Archie Roach’s extraordinary musical career, together with two songs previously written but never recorded, two songs of early-influence and three brand new recordings. The album has been arranged and produced by celebrated and multi-award winner Paul Grabowsky.
Today sees the release of the video for the next single, ‘Rally Round The Drum (feat. Paul Kelly)’. ‘Rally Round The Drum’ was co-written with Paul Kelly when they toured New Zealand together not long after the release of Charcoal Lane in the early ‘90s, and this occasion sees the two giants of Australian music reunite to finally record it together.
To celebrate the release of the album and book today, The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia have published an online-only exhibition dedicated to the artist, titled Archie Roach: His Story in Song, which is available to view now on their website. The exhibition contains live footage of Archie, along with previously unpublished home movies and interviews spanning his career.
Jan Müller, CEO of The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, said: “we are honoured to have received a deposit of audio-visual material, as well as original documents and artefacts, from Archie Roach and his manager Jill Shelton. We explore the themes of his life and work through his music – taking audiences on a journey of heartbreaking loss, love and healing. The unique power of Archie’s voice and his gift for storytelling – given to him by the land and the old people – is profoundly moving to witness and we are excited to share this incredible material with Australia and the world.”
Archie Roach says: “The NFSA Exhibition is a great presentation. Looking back at some of the old clips through the years takes you back and reminds you what you were doing at the time. I was really surprised by some of the material. It dug deep, revealing gems — an overall picture of what I was doing over the years. I’m looking forward to sharing it with everyone.”
A keen observer and soulful poet, Archie’s most loved songs are included on Tell Me Why. Some shine a light on dark subjects: the forced removal of children on ‘Took The Children Away’, ‘Tell Me Why (feat. Sally Dastey)’ and ‘Lighthouse, Song For Two Mothers’, and about life on the streets on ‘F Troop’ and ‘Down City Streets’. Others speak of the importance of a connection to self and family, such as on ‘Small Child’ and ‘Always Be Here (feat. Sally Dastey)’, and a connection to country, on ‘A Child Was Born Here’ and ‘Nopun Kurongk’.
Archie has a deep love of his people and indeed of all people. He seeks to build bridges and throughout his extensive songbook, penned over the past four decades, there is one continual theme running deep, and that is LOVE. Love of family, culture, country and of each other echo throughout songs such as ‘Let Love Rule’ and ‘Little By Little’.
There are also two beautiful renditions of songs that shaped the young Roach, in Hank Williams’ ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’, and Mahalia Jackson’s inspired ‘Just A Closer Walk With Thee’, in this instance recorded with the truly sublime vocal might of Emma Donovan.
The three brand new songs on the album are ‘One For Each Person And One For The Pot’, and ‘The Jetty Song’, which pay loving tribute to Roach’s foster parents Dulcie and Alex Cox, and ‘Place Of Fire’, a place that Roach says speaks of love and connection, a place he asks us all to come back to where we will discover there’s more that connects than separates us, a place where we will be one humanity.
Last week, Archie Roach won the 2020 Victorian Australian Of The Year, and will now go on to represent Victoria at the 2020 Australian Of The Year Awards. The award was a huge honour for Archie, who said, “we live in the most blessed country on this earth. We are the most blessed people on this earth, because of that. We all come from a sacred place, the beginning, and we can all journey back as one people and be the authors of a new story for this country.”
Roach has been making music since 1990, and along the journey has received many accolades including a Member Of The Order Of Australia (AM), a Human Rights Achievement Award, five ARIAs, and an APRA Lifetime Achievement award. He has shared the stage with Patti Smith, Paul Simon, Joan Armatrading, Rodriguez and the late, great Leonard Cohen.
Tell Me Why
Album out now through Bloodlines
Available to buy/stream here
Tell Me Why tracklisting:
1. Took The Children Away
2. A Child Was Born Here
3. F Troop
4. Nopun Kurongk
5. Just A Closer Walk With Thee
(feat. Emma Donovan)
6. Lighthouse (Song For Two Mothers)
7. One For Each Person, And One For The Pot
8. Little By Little
9. Down City Streets
10. Rally Round The Drum
(feat. Paul Kelly)
11. Small Child
12. The Jetty Song
13. Always Be Here (feat. Sally Dastey)
14. Tell Me Why (feat. Sally Dastey)
15. Let Love Rule
16. One Up Your Eyes
17. I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
18. Place Of Fire
Archie Roach – Tell Me Why book tour
Monday 4 November
Nexus Arts (Imprint Booksellers) | Adelaide, SA
Thursday 7 November
Athenaeum Theatre (Readings Books) | Melbourne, VIC
Friday 8 November
Edendale Farm (Eltham Bookshop) | Eltham, VIC
Tuesday 12 November
Seymour Centre (Better Read Than Dead) | Sydney, NSW
Wednesday 13 November
BMEC (BooksPlus) | Bathurst, NSW
Friday 15 November
Llewellyn Hall ANU (Harry Hartog Bookseller) | Canberra, ACT
Saturday 16 November
Word for Word National Non-Fiction Festival | Geelong, VIC
Saturday 23 November
St Brigids Cultural Centre (Collins Booksellers) | Crossley, VIC
Monday 25 November
The Greek Club (Avid Reader Bookshop) | Brisbane, QLD
Tuesday 26 November
Brisbane Powerhouse (Riverbend Books) | Brisbane, QLD
Friday 29 November
Fullers Bookshop | Hobart, TAS
Wednesday 4 December
Comedy Lounge (Boffins Books) | Perth, WA
Thursday 5 December
Navy Club (New Edition Bookshop) | Fremantle, WA
Wednesday 11 December
Northern Territory Library (The Bookshop) | Darwin, NT