All posts by Sharon Lenehan

Shellie Morris – A Conversation

Talking to Shellie Morris is like talking to an old friend you didn’t know you had. She has a voice that rings with truth and courage and raw sincerity both when she sings and when she talks. But just who is this remarkable woman who is coming to the Tanks on the 10th and 11th of July?

She describes herself, unassumingly, as a singer/songwriter, “I just do what I do. I love to sing”. But it goes way beyond that to performing with the legends like the Black Arm Band and Yothu Yindi, working on her next album with Neil Murray, Djakapurra Munyarryun and Jon English, and has co-written songs for the award winning doco, Prison Songs. Morris is the also current NAIDOC Artist of the Year and the 2014 NT Australian of the Year.

But the real driving passion of this woman comes not from big names and big collaborations. It comes out in her voice when she speaks of her work with Indigenous children in remote communities, engaging them in music and keeping traditional language alive. “The kids are teaching me language and I put it in a song. It shows them someone is interested in them and through song we learn to sing the language. Through performing the concept of ‘shame’ is changing –performing encourages you to be brave. My own family is so proud of me for having a go.”

This is a woman who brings a message to the indigenous musos of the NT (‘there are five to ten bands here for every 1 000 people in a community) that they are “part of the big picture, to encourage them to keep going and to let them know they are important just where they are”.

It is the very same message that underpins Morris and her collaborative work on the award winning documentary Prison Songs, the winner of the 2015 Rockie Award at the Banff World Media Festival, Canada and in the running for five WA Screen Awards, to be announced in late June. Morris worked with Indigenous prisoners at Darwin’s infamous Berrimah Jail.

Using her songwriting skills Morris, along with Casey Bennetto, has taken the stories of inmates and together they have put experiences to music to give voice to the often silenced. With her deep knowledge of culture plus the willingness to learn new language from her collaborators, Morris combines music and their voices to tell stories rarely heard. Watching the documentary is powerful testimony of the hope and encouragement Morris brings to her interaction with each inmate. (Currently she is in production for the stage version of the documentary to be premiered at the Darwin Festival in August of this year.)

This encouragement will be evident in the coming workshops Morris is holding at The Tanks on Saturday the 11th of July. The style will be more of a conversation, with Morris sharing her stories, music and hope. She is particularly keen to encourage young Indigenous artists as well as talking openly and honestly about the road that has led her to this place in her life and career. If the workshops are anything like I experienced when talking to Morris, you can expect warmth, wisdom, hope, and a story of a woman giving back.

Shellie Morris plays the Singing Up Country show with Kutcha Edwards and Merrindi Briscoe at the Tanks on the 10th of July – Tickets available through Ticketlink

Shellie is also part of the “Our Band Biz” Seminar at the Tanks on 11th of July – Entry is free but tickets are strictly limited – For bookings contact Leanne Tennant – l.tennant@cairns.qld.gov.au or phone (07) 4032 6604

Sharon Lenehan

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