Jessie Lloyd is an Aboriginal Australian “Songkeeper,” musical artist and social historian dedicated to honouring the music, stories and culture of Aboriginal Australia and Torres Strait Islander communities with her collaborative music projects. To honour NAIDOC Week, Jessie was this week’s guest on AIM’s Music Industry Insights podcast. Listen on Spotify Podcasts or Apple Podcasts or via the player below.
In Jessie’s award-winning TV series, Mission Songs Project, she re-imagined Australian Aboriginal songs created by members of the Stolen Generation, thereby introducing new audiences to Indigenous stories and music in groundbreaking new ways. Her latest collaborative creative venture, The Island Songs Project, involves modernising popular historical songs from the Torres Strait region to create island grooves woven together with local language. This project involved collaborating with senior Torres Strait songwomen to bring their folk songs to life. “The Torres Strait has a rich musical history; music has always been encouraged in the Torres Straits,” Jessie says. Listen below.
Beyond these collaborations, Jessie’s side project involves travelling to remote communities to record the unheard songs of senior Aboriginal songwomen (“the Aunties”). These sessions are an opportunity for Jessie to stay connected to the elders, give back to the community and preserve critically endangered languages – the elders are still fluent speakers. Yet another way Jessie is capturing the lightning in a bottle that is one of the oldest living cultures in existence.
In our extended interview, we explore her journey from artist to historian, the story behind her incredible musical projects, what she’s learned from the Australian Aboriginal elders she’s worked with, the secrets of the Torres Strait Islander musical world, the undeniable power of music to move people and deepen their understanding and lots more. Listen on Spotify Podcasts or Apple Podcasts.
JESSIE ON HER TRANSITION FROM ARTIST TO HISTORIAN
AIM: You’re a musician, but you evolved to become a cultural historian and a sociologist as well. How did you make this leap?
Jessie: “I was very passionate about it. It’s that one song, “The Irex” that just really sort of sparked my curiosity. It was this feeling of musical time travel. That’s the power of music; to be able to transcend time and space, sometimes what you experience and where you’re present in the moment of a song.
I was really curious about that experience while listening to “The Irex,” because it’s a song about a boat from Palm Island, the boat that took everybody and all the kids that were removed. It’s a beautiful farewell song. It’s what the families used to sing to their loved ones when they were going. I heard it and I felt like I was on the beach, saying goodbye. And we know the context of that story with the Stolen Generation and family saying farewell, hope to see you again. That’s what’s really why I’ve gone down this music history [path]: because music is a powerful tool to transport us back to where we come from and who we are. That’s what I’m passionate about.”