Saltwater Freshwater Festival opens main stage to unearthed Mid North Coast Aboriginal musical acts

Saltwater Freshwater Festival’s main stage is being transformed into a unique musical showcase for local outstanding Aboriginal talent from across the Mid North Coast.

Next weekend on Australia Day, the event will feature four finalists and four “wild cards” from the Made Deadly open-mic sessions, which unearthed local Aboriginal musical acts from five communities in the region. They range from solo performers, singer-songwriters and a rapper, aged from early teens up to Elders.

Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance ran the initiative jointly with cultural organisation Grow the Music. It comprised of open-mic sessions in Coffs Harbour, Kempsey, Taree, Port Macquarie and Bowraville, and encouraged Aboriginal performers of all ages and types to apply. NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) sponsored the whole program and are the main Festival sponsor.

Finalists – who were selected by a panel which included Fiona Poole from ABC Coffs Coast – now have the opportunity to have their music recorded professionally, perform at the festival and kickstart their musical career via a mentoring and masterclass program.

The undoubted highlight for the finalists is sharing the stage with the main Saltwater Freshwater line-up, and performing in front of the event’s hundreds-strong audience next weekend. The event runs 10am to 5.30pm 26 January at Coffs Harbour Jetty Foreshores.

Lizzy Rutten, co-founder of Grow the Music, and whose industry experience sees her working closely with experienced and emerging artists, said: “The messages in these Aboriginal artists’ songs and the messages in these people, it deserves to be heard.

“It’s really difficult for Aboriginal artists to get exposure in the industry and they often don’t have the financial backing to go that one step further.

“The knowledge that they have comes out through their heart, there’s a grounding and genuineness in their music. They have an incredibly powerful connection to family and land.

“The more Aboriginal music artists who we can get into the public eye and inspire us, the better off we all will be.”

The finalists performing at Festival are:

Michael Saunders, Taree – Guitarist, singer-songwriter

Michael is a Biripai man whose strong musical and creative roots run back to his grandparents. An avid guitarist and songwriter, his original music reflects his enormous passion for his land, as well as the rich stories of his family’s Dreaming and totems. Michael comes from a family of commercial fisherman and is a primary school teacher and Aboriginal resource teacher. He who started his musical career later in his life and said that it “means everything to me to be able to play at Festival”.

For Michael, singing in language and sharing his cultural stories are the biggest honour about performing at the festival. He added: “This is my opportunity to share my mob’s language. When we speak our language, it’s like a volcano erupting, it’s that powerful.”

Nigel Kennedy, Kempsey – Rapper

Nigel is a young Dunghutti man who writes and raps about his life, telling stories of hardship and repression. His stories of triumphing over severe adversity in his life moved the Made Deadly judging panel to tears. His lyrical talent, powerful rhyming style and stageworthiness deemed him one of the standout and most exciting entries of the open-mic series.

Richie Jarrett, Bowraville – Singer

Richie is a vibrant artist with swagger, whose strong cultural message and charisma steals the show on stage. Lizzy Rutten said: “He’s won a lot of battles being himself and standing up for himself. Bowraville is a bit of a musical movement for Aboriginal musos – they all know each other’s songs and there’s a real sense of pride. You could see that on open-mic day – there were lots of people in the audience and a lot of people on stage or helping each other swapping instruments, collaborating. Richie’s a natural frontman, a real rockstar.”

Kauri Munro-Greentree, Coffs Harbour – Singer-songrwriter

Kauri spends a lot of his time performing and busking and is a passionate songwriter who conveys powerful messages through his lyrics and atmospheric vocals. He uses his guitar for percussive sounds. Lizzy says: “He’s going to be a star, someone who could really get picked up by the industry. He’s got a genuine, gentle nature and is a real creative – passionate about music and his guitar. It means a lot to him to play at the festival.”

The four Made Deadly wild cards are:

  1. Luca Saunders, Taree Luca, a soul singer, is barely in her teens and is described as already showing the vocal sophistication of a much older artist.
  2. Jay Davis, Taree A charismatic and talented performer, who entertains his audience with guitar, stomp box, didgeridoo and local language.
  3. Joan McDonald (Elder), Taree Described as having “Nina Simone-like star quality” by the Made Deadly judging panel.
  4. River Morris, Bowraville A wise and charismatic presence and cultural storyteller.

For media, images and interviews contact Eve Jaremka on 0481 150 795 or