The Key Of Sea
A new compilation sticks up the middle finger at the oft-repeated “stop the boats” refrain, writes ANDREW MCMILLEN.
This is more than a collection of songs. It’s a middle-finger to the unending dialogue surrounding the hideously offensive phrase “stop the boats”.
That dog whistle sounded long and loud across the land earlier this year, as politicians and their supporters attempted to shield racist ideals under the guise of protecting national interests in an election year. The Key Of Sea is the compassionate antidote to narrow-minded xenophobia. All proceeds from the sale of the album - which pairs well-known Australian artists with refugee musicians - go to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival, and Refugees Survivors and Ex Detainees. Its co-founders encourage listeners to "think deep, dig deep, and enjoy a unique musical journey". It's an apt disclaimer.
These 11 narratives are drawn from disparate inspirations. Knowing each song's genesis only adds to their impact. Urthboy's collaboration with Group 120, 'Letters From Jamshed', has its roots in the MC's sister trading mail with an asylum seeker named Jamshed, who was being held in the Nairu detention centre. Featuring lyrics taken from Jamshed's correspondence, the song's chorus - set among hip-hop beats, a circular nylon-string guitar riff, and Group 120's choir of sighs - presents the question that lies at the heart of the asylum seeker debate: "Do you mind, if you and I/We share the sky?". Alongside Blue King Brown and Diafrix's 'Streets Are Getting Hot', it's the album's most upbeat track, and among the most memorable.
So too 'Zero', The Cat Empire's bustling, seven-minute-long collaboration with an Ethiopian singer named Anbessa Gebrehiwot. Written five years ago in Ethiopia as a love song, it took on new meaning for the singer when he spent years alone in Australia, separated from his family and friends. To Gebrehiwot, life was “zero” until he was reunited with his loved ones. With The Cat Empire's brass backing, the song sounds celebratory, despite the heavy themes enunciated in the singer's emotive native tongue.
“‘The Key Of Sea’ is the compassionate antidote to narrow-minded xenophobia.”
Oh Mercy pair up with Australia-via-Pakistan singer Nadia Omar for the spine-tingling 'Hands Will Cradle', wherein Omar hits some truly remarkable notes. Tim Rogers steps way outside his comfort zone to perform Rembetika - said to be the “blues” of Greece - with a “compania” of traditional Greek musicians; it's a must-hear for all Rogers fans. The Vasco Era work with Iraqi singer Yousif Aziz in 'Habibi', which begins with the band's characteristic bluesy distortion and ends with Aziz pouring his heart out in Arabic, while Sid O'Neill translates. Sarah Blasko sings alongside Sudanese performer Ajak Kwai, whose thick, distinctive accent is a literal world away from Blasko's pretty delivery. The track works so well it hurts.
The Key Of Sea is an album of rare beauty. Its heartbeat is tangible and ever-present. The songs and stories are compelling, and demand repeat listens before surrendering their secrets. Its thematic purity cannot be understated. It's a celebration of human life, regardless of your political or musical leanings. Katie Noonan and The Captains' collaboration with Japanese drumming troupe TaikOz, 'Fatal Shore', pithily pinpoints the project's overarching sentiment: "If we're the lucky country, can't we spread some luck?/If we're the fruitful country, can't we share some fruit?". It should piped through Parliament House forevermore.