The best in Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Music

Archie Roach – Voice of the people

Through his words, voice and timeless songs, Archie Roach has articulated the pain, joy, resilience and uplifting spirit of the aboriginal experience like few other artists. In a very special interview, Archie spoke to jailbreak about the inspiration he draws from his people. JAILBREAK: Archie, you visit prisons often to talk with inmates and over the years you’ve travelled to countless communities to listen to people’s stories – why are these visits so important to you, and what do you get out of them? ARCHIE ROACH: People ask me what I hope to give them or to do for them when I go into prisons. I say it’s not really so much what I can do for them, but what they can do for me. I get so much from so many people when I go into prison. They’ve got a lot of time to think about things and they start painting – maybe they start playing some music or even writing down poetry. I believe that even though it’s the wrong place to be, they can really sit down and take the time to communicate how they really feel about what’s bothering them in society, and get an idea of who they really are and what needs to be done. My late partner, Ruby, said she liked to go into these remote communities. She liked talking to the children. The community might be affected by alcohol problems. Instead of communicating with the older people who I suppose were part of all that, Ruby went and asked the children how they felt, she asked them about what they did whenever they felt down and things like that. A lot of songs were gathered from the children, about how they liked to go out in the bush and get away from all that bad stuff. It was interesting, it was good. That’s how we tried to communicate and listen to the children and it was pretty positive, I thought. JB: What impact have your visits with prisons and different communities had on your music? AR: I always keep coming back to children, young people. But like I said, the inspiration I get from other people comes from just talking. I love to listen these days. I love to listen to other people’s stories because you can only write so much about yourself and your own life. Once you start listening to other people’s stories it’s great. You get another idea and you get good inspiration for songwriting. People talk about sport and things, but I think music – not just music, but art in general – it’s a good way for young people who are growing up and becoming adults to express themselves. I feel sometimes that people have great wisdom or great things to say, but very few people hear those words, and with their permission I might write a song to quote people. I wrote a bit of poetry when I was at school and it just evolved into songwriting. It was something that came from within. I loved to write when I was a young bloke at school. I liked poetry. JB: You’ve said that the two key factors that helped get you through your own personal struggles with alcohol in your early years were family and music – can you tell us a bit more about that? AR: I tried so many times to stop drinking, and I tried so many times to stop doing some of the negative things I was doing. But I kept going back, doing them time and time again, doing the wrong things, until eventually I’d had enough – really had enough. I just got sick of being sick, sick of drinking. I had my family with me at the time, my young family, and they helped me get through. They helped me get through because they left. They left me, and I realised that I love my family and need them more than anything else. I think that you’ve got to believe that you’re better. You can get better. I swore that that would be the last time I’d be back in. And that was the last time. There is life after prison. There is life after alcohol and drugs. Good life, too.


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