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Singer-songwriter celebrates & defends her aboriginal heritage

for The Brooklyn Paper

"I represent the red dirt and water/The blood in the veins of the Mother Land," begins "Red Dirt and Water," the opening track of "Flight of the Emu," Australian rocker Debbie Morrow’s debut album.

Morrow’s CD, which was originally released in 1999, contains nine original songs. They are overflowing with the anger and angst of a native Australian of aboriginal heritage, who was taken from her birth parents at six months and until four years ago, was denied access to her birthright and culture.

"Being an aborigine, to me, means my complete identity," said Morrow. "I come from a culture that has been pushed around a lot. But we are still so full of our ancestors’ spiritual guidance - that always helps me see the way." At the time of our interview she was working on her next CD, which she hopes will be completed by the end of this year and released in early 2002.

Morrow will perform on Oct. 19 at 9 pm, as part of BAMcafe’s "Over Down Under" concert series, which complements its "Next Wave Down Under" theater and dance performances. Though she performs with seven other vocalists and musicians on "Flight of the Emu," at BAMcafe, Morrow will perform on acoustic guitar with her children, Jackson on didjeridu (a native-Australian wind instrument which stretches from the player’s mouth to the floor) and Elana on clapsticks.

Morrow’s aboriginal heritage, her resentment towards her foster family and the anti-aboriginal racism and prejudice in Australia (she feels that that the attitudes of the Australian people toward "colored people are prehistoric" and that the Australian government is "openly racist and xenophobic"), are themes that repeatedly weave their way into the fabric of "Flight of the Emu."

"I’m black and I’m white/I’m wrong and you’re right is the message I hear/So I think to myself what the future holds/For my children in this racist country," Morrow sings in "Going Into this World."

In "What Worse Could You Do to Your Child?" Morrow opines, "So I went home to see some old friends/And what I saw was a reflection/Of what’s happened to our land/I saw some attitudes that/Needed changing now/Attitudes about the colours of the skin/That make this world go ’round."

And in "Blackman," she wails about the lies that are told about aborigines. "When I was little I was told all about you/The things you said/And the things that you do/How you’re a savage that roams free on the land/And how you went around spearing the white man/And they said you won’t understand/ And they said don’t talk to the Blackman." She explained that the term "Blackman" is one used in Australia to refer to an aboriginal person.

Despite the hard-rocking folk music that appears on "Flight of the Emu," Morrow said that her musical influences included fellow Australian vocalist, Olivia Newton-John and Swedish pop band, ABBA.

"They were happy, feel-good kind of music, carefree kind of stuff," she said. Just be aware that when you purchase "Flight of the Emu" these influences will be buried under the anger. You will probably hear the sounds of another politically charged Australian rock band, Midnight Oil, who was also known to take the Australian government to task for its treatment of aborigines.

The title of her album, "Flight of the Emu," is an optimistic gesture, however. (Emu are large, dull-colored flightless birds native to Australia.)

"Emus used to fly back in the dreamtime, when the creator spirits were creating the land," said Morrow. "The emu was Biame’s pet, if you like. (Biame is the name of my creator Spirit.) She used to fly around the skies, and her feathers were all the colours of the rainbow when the earth was being created and was still pure."

"Then one day she got a little too curious about the land that Biame was creating and all the other birds that were allowed to live beneath the heavens. She needed to investigate.

"She was told many times to never go to earth place, but of course she did and she finally landed on her feet on the earth.

"After having such a great time she decided to go home only to find that she couldn’t fly. Then Biame came to see her. When she asked him what was going on, he replied: ’You were told not to go to the earth land, because your job is in the heavens. Because you didn’t listen, I will have to teach you a lesson you will never fly again until the earth becomes pure again.’

"The reason why I called [the album] ’The Flight of The Emu’ is because the world is losing it’s purity and spirituality and beliefs in higher powers. And I believe that one day it will all turn back to normal, and that’s when the emu will take flight again," explained Morrow. "It is also my totem, which is like a kind of spirit guide. These ancestral stories are very similar to those of the native Indians of America."

Morrow calls her voice a "gift" from her aboriginal ancestors, and she’s been sharing her gift over the past 18 years. She’s played in numerous festivals, including the Maleny Folk Festival and the Melbourne Moomba Festival in Australia. She has also performed with, among others, Ani DiFranco and Paul Kelly.

Morrow has just completed a successful tour, which she said has energized her to begin recording her new album. This time, she believes she has gotten through a lot of her anger and is now attempting to focus on the positive in every situation.

"Flight of the Emu," however, is an important statement from a unique singer-songwriter with a singular vision and voice and a compelling story. Until we hear her new CD, we’ll fly with the emu over the red dirt and water, against its very nature, and we’ll also envision that emu carrying Morrow’s oppression to a place far away.

Additional reporting by Lisa J. Curtis.

Debbie Morrow will perform at BAMcafe (30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place) on Oct. 19 at 9 pm. Admission is free, but there is a $10 food/drink minimum. The "Over Down Under" concerts run Oct. 4-27. For updates and information, call (718) 636-4139.

"Flight of the Emu" will be available the night of Morrow’s performance at BAMcafe.

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Donna Coxon from Sydney Australia says:
Deb Morrow is a fantastic singer and a loved adoptive cousin. watching Deb grow into a free sprit who loves her music and who can now express herself the way she does through her music proves she has made up for what was taken from her as a baby and now living her life and heritage through her music. Stay free Deb
July 6, 2009, 8:15 am

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