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A star among stars, Dan Sultan returns to Karijini's rugged splendour

David Prestipino -

You could hear a pin drop during Indigenous musician Dan Sultan's standout performance at the Mushroom 50 Live event at Rod Laver Arena last November.

The all-star mega concert featured past and present Australian music royalty but it was Sultan who delivered the night's emotional zenith, covering Archie Roach's Took The Children Away, performed after a video package dedicated to the importance of First Nations artists and their influence.

Playing solely on piano first, and letting his soulful voice amplify the importance of the lyrics, Sultan then transformed the song to a show-stopping end, complete with band and strings.

Spine-tingling moments like these have become habitual for audiences watching Sultan, a Arrernte/Gurindji singer-songwriter currently on a sell-out tour of the east coast after returning home from whirlwind tour with Vance Joy of North America, where the crowd at the iconic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville gave him a standing ovation.

"Things that are affirming like that (the Rod Laver performance and standing ovation in Nashville) can be very powerful, it's very special," said the multi-ARIA award winner, adding he's conscious up on stage when his audience is experiencing such a moment.

"When it is happening, it's a beautiful feeling. I mean, that's the whole, that's the dragon, you know what I mean?

"So, you know, if nothing else, it is a beautiful thing to be able to experience that."

Sultan will this week swing back to Karijini National Park, one of the most scenic and isolated destinations in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, where he first played in 2019 as the headline act of the Karijini Experience, a four-day cultural festival held in the heart of the remote and spectacular Banjima Country.

He can't wait to return, performing an array of songs including from his latest album, the self-titled Dan Sultan, a process four years in the making that involved COVID lockdowns, bushfires, floods but also, significantly, a family, with Sultan's first child a few months old when work began on it, and a second child arriving before its release last August.

Pin-drop moments are more than likely when Sultan performs under the bright night sky full of stars at Yurlu Lounge on April 7, alongside some of Australia's leading Indigenous performers to close out the celebrated festival.

"Karijini is a beautiful country. I was lucky enough to experience it a few days prior to the show last time, and I'm doing the same this year," he told National Indigenous Times.

"This time I'm actually bringing my family along. So we're going to have a few days exploring and obviously enjoying the festival.

"I remember thinking - it was just before my first child was born when I was here last time - that it would be great to be able to bring them up, if I ever get another chance to get back.

"And we've got a couple of kids now. So we're excited for it, it will be great."

Sultan swings back west after much acclaim for his fifth album, a touching, serene and triumphant release that resonates with themes of positive transformation, reclamation and family, highlighted by the moving Wait In Love, about deciding to get sober while hoping his then-girlfriend (now wife, Bron) would hang around.

Another highlight is the ethereal Fortress, featuring Julia Stone on trumpet and vocals, as well as Joel Quartermain (Eskimo Joe), a good mate of Sultan's who also produced the album and co-write and played on several tracks.

"Joel is a beautiful man, an inspiring dude... a really, really clever producer and songwriter," Sultan said.

"Something just felt like it sort of shifted to me when we wrote that song."

Sultan said Wait In Love gave him courage to shift from the usual roots of his songwriting.

"You know, with that song, the thing was... I was brave enough to write a positive song," he said.

"I've always been as open and honest as I possibly could in my songwriting, and I've written a lot of sad songs.

"But to be able to write a song that's happy and full of light, I think I was able to really go there more than I've ever been able to go there before."

Sultan will sing under the magic of the night sky on the airstrip at Karijini National Park, which is the base for the festival from April 4 to 7.

The Karijini Experience will feature Indigenous art, culture, food and music from other Indigenous performers, including the Bradley Hall Band, Broken Tides, Alice Skye and Nathan Lamont.

Event manager Richard Campbell, from CMS Events, said the layout for the 2024 event - on the national park's landing strip - was changed to give the main stage and activations greater prominence.

Tickets and more details are available online.

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