13 October 2010

Review: Magpie Blues

MIAF 2010
Magpie Blues
Ursula Yovich
Melbourne International Arts Festival
12 October 2010
the Forum Theatre
to 13 October


In Magpie Blues, singer and storyteller Ursula Yovich fills the Forum theatre with her voice and her heart.

With a four-piece band, her smooth soul voice and open soul bring life to song choices that are a bit classic fm radio, but it does mean that her audience (including myself) know them and can safely hum along. There's safety and comfort in her song choices, but she doesn't hold back with her story.

A magpie is a black and white gorgeous singing bird and Ursula's totem animal. Brought up in Darwin, she's a self-proclaimed Serborigine with an Arnhem Land mother and Serbian father. Ursula didn't think there was anything different about this until she was placed in an ESL class in primary school because she spoke English with a Serbian accent. Between songs she tells evocative stories like fossicking for gold in Humpty Doo and only finding old Coke cans, singing Bony M songs with her mum in Burada, one of the Maningrida family of languages, and receiving letters from her Serbian grandmother with the handprints of her cousins.

It wasn't a straight road from singing in her bedroom to winning Helpmann Awards. Her mum left when she and her siblings were young and much of the second half of the show is about Ursula's re-connection with her Aboriginal culture, prompted when she was called a white fella in Maningrida, where she was born.  Speaking three languages, Ursuala knows how quickly connection to language can be lost and how this is connected to loss of culture.

Having experienced far too many young deaths in her immediate family, Ursula openly and bravely talks about the suicide of her young niece and how there is no stronger sign of damaged culture than young people killing themselves. An old Maningrida aunty told her that is didn't used to be like this, that young people used to be proud of their strong culture.

Guided by director Wesley Enoch, Ursula reminds us how important it is to tell our stories; those from our childhood living rooms and those of our most far-reaching families. Without these real and lived stories, memories and cultures will continue to disappear and we become a much lesser society for that.

This review appears on AussieThearte.com

Photo by Peter Collie

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