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Nancy Bates, Tim Gray announced as Sydney Conservatorium of Music 2024 Indigenous Artists-in-Residence

Callan Morse -

The Sydney Conservatorium of Music has announced Barkindji/Wilyakali woman Nancy Bates and Gumbayngirr/Wiradjuri/Bidjigal man Tim Gray as the Conservatorium’s 2024 Indigenous Artists-in-Residence.

Throughout 2024, Ms Bates and Mr Gray will mentor First Nations students and collaborate with Sydney Conservatorium of Music students and staff in the creation of original music.

Through her role, Ms Bates, a song woman who has shared the stage with Archie Roach and writes songs with incarcerated women intends to share her Songs Inside project with students.

The 2023 project saw her work with Indigenous women in prisons, helping them find their voices and tell their stories by learning how to write songs, sing, and play the ukulele.

“I want to share this beautiful project with the Sydney Con and the students so they learn about music that has been written in an oppressed space, or under oppressive conditions,” Ms Bates said.

“This is contemporary music. It reflects women and their experiences in prison. It also reflects women's ability to turn perhaps the violence and abuse that we may have experienced into love and compassion for each other, and for ourselves.”

 

Ms Bates said she hopes to work with Conservatorium students to help orchestrate and perform prison songs to elevate their expressive power and show students how they can use their skills for positive social impact. 

“Prison isn’t the nicest place to write music in, but when that song comes, there is no prison, there are no walls, there is no barbed wire, there is only freedom,” she said.

“If I can inspire musicians here at the Con to take their music into a prison system and to run a program – my work is done.”

The lead singer/songwriter with the reggae band Green Hand Band, Mr Gray is strongly influenced by Bob Marley and upbeat political song writing. 

For him, music is about healing.

“I started learning classical piano when I was a kid living with a foster family, but when my foster mum died, I ran away and the music stopped for me,” Mr Gray said. 

“I wanted to find my Aboriginal family and I did, in Redfern and in Woolloomooloo. But I was homeless for a while and started drinking at 15. I spent 15 years in drug and alcohol addiction before going into rehab. I found music again in rehab and got sober.”

He now fronts Redfern-based Green Hand Band, an Indigenous band using music to raise awareness of issues such as recovering from addiction, spiritual empowerment, love and social justice.

“I use music for healing and for conveying a message, just like my favourite artist Bob Marley,” he says.

Mr Gray plans to to work with Conservatorium students on songs around Aboriginal mythology, particularly scary creatures. 

“I want to explore the supernatural aspects of my culture, through music,” Mr Gray said.

“Hopefully, they don't get too scared when I tell them what we're going to be writing songs about – creatures - some black fellas don't like talking about our creatures because it’s spooky.

“I think we've forgotten about this part of our culture, a little bit.

“I want to bring it back! But in a respectful way, because they're a big part of our culture. A lot of our dreaming stories are about these things. When I told Nancy what I was doing, she said ‘ooooh’, but then she was happy that I was doing it. Because she realised she was part of that culture, too.”

Now in its second iteration, the Sydney Conservatorium of Music Indigenous Artists-in-Residence project seeks to improve visibility and awareness of Indigenous knowledge, methodologies and perspectives through supporting creative opportunities for Indigenous artists.

Ms Bates and Mr Gray follow a successful 2023 residency by artists Nardi Simpson and Troy Russell.

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