Live Review: Songs of Hope and Healing – QPAC Concert Hall, Brisbane – 8th June 2022

A large and enthusiastic school-night audience filled QPAC’s concert hall for an evening of musical hope and healing to raise funds for HEAL (Home of Expressive Arts and Learning); a program that provides creative arts therapy to young people of refugee backgrounds.

Hosted by lawyer, CEO, human rights advocate, and refugee of the Soviet-Afghanistan conflict, Mariam Veiszadeh, the evening provided an eclectic and affecting mix of music to inspire collective belief and soothe the weary soul.

When it can feel like the walls are closing in, connecting through stories and songs has a way of breaking them down, and, following a Welcome to Country and self-written lullaby courtesy of Gudja Kerry, the hope and healing began with the QPAC Chamber Choir performing a sprightly version of Bill Withers’ ‘Lovely Day’.

Next was the first of two appearances from the outstanding headliner Mahalia Barnes; her powerful blues-rock vocals lifting the audience to another plane with a rendition of Helen Reddy’s ‘I Am Woman’, followed by a long and luscious ‘Ain’t Nobody Else’.

Mahalia Barnes

The most unique and captivating performance of the evening followed from JADE; a Brisbane-based ensemble featuring Japanese koto master Takako Haggarty Nishibori, Nepalese tabla virtuoso Dheeraj Shrestha, Australian guitarist Dr Anthony Garcia, and Wakka Wakka didgeridoo and keyboard player David Williams. The quartet played the subtle and stylish ‘Ancient Waters’ and ‘Fishbowl’, with Garcia relating the story of the latter track being written deep in the bowels of QPAC itself in an artist area known as the ‘fishbowl’ to the audience’s appreciation.

JADE

Next came Irish band Sásta (meaning ‘happy’ in Gaelic), who are warming up for an upcoming tour of France and Ireland, with the instrumental ‘Ron’s Time’ followed by ‘She Said’, which allowed singer-guitarist Mick Hughes’s deft vocals to come to the fore, before the QPAC Chamber Choir seized the opportunity to promote their upcoming ‘ABBA Evolution’ concert in August with their version of the Swedish legends’ recently released ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’.

Deline Briscoe changed the pace and injected a more direct storytelling approach with her songs ‘Sweet Frangipani’ and ‘Big Law’; the Yalanji woman relating tales of her grandfather’s youth on Palm Island, the sounds and smells of the place and time, and the injustice experienced by her family in a skewed justice system. Soft and mellow the telling of her stories may have began, but when the Cairns-based singer let her voice soar, strength and courage reverberated around the hall.

The Obscure Orchestra

The expansive stage was quickly filled by roughly 20 members of Matt Hsu’s Obscure Orchestra; the recent Queensland Music Award winners taking the audience on a whimsical journey through a three-track set including highlight ‘Welcome to the Neighbourhood’. One of Hsu’s trademark instruments, the $27.95 Mitre 10 saw, appeared as part of a fitting finale to the set of surely one of Brisbane’s most innovative groups.

Finale

And so, for the grand finale to send gig-goers home feeling healed and hopeful. Mahalia Barnes once again took to the stage to blow the roof off QPAC, performing mighty versions of ‘Three Times and I’m Gone’, ‘Little Light’, which she proudly dedicated to her 13-year-old daughter, and ‘You Are My Sunshine’, which saw the Obscure Orchestra return to the stage. The curtain came down after a final dose of thunder with ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, on which all performers from the evening collaborated to form the ultimate Australian super group (for one unique performance only).

On a chilly Tuesday evening, hope and healing never sounded so good.

Donate to HEAL at its website.

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