Global sounds

The Roma Band. Photos by Michael Gallagher

THESE days, watching obscure music is as simple as typing “Peruvian death metal” into YouTube, but pre-internet you had to make the effort to ferret things out.

In the early 1980s, one of the few ways to see authentic world music in Perth was at the Ethnic Music Centre, which held concerts showcasing local immigrant musicians and dancers at the North Perth Town Hall.

Featuring everything from Andean music from the mountains of Chile to African, Egyptian and Chinese artists, it was a diverse and intoxicating mix of cultures and sounds.

Mark Cain was a budding saxophonist and journalist at Curtin University’s Radio 6NR when the Ethnic Music Centre launched in 1983, and he ended up on their first management committee.

He says two of the most memorable bands were a Chilean trio called Los Chaskis, who were former miners and arrived in WA about 1980, and the The Roma Band, a Macedonian Romany trio.

“The Roma Band played wildly energetic Balkan-inspired music featuring wailing clarinet supported by equally virtuosic darabuka (drum) and accordion,” Cain says.

“A Roma Band concert always featured a large proportion of the local Roma community and typically involved audience members doing circle dancers together with Romany women teaching by example.

“Los Chaskis played traditional Andean music from the mountainous Chilean/Peruvian Altiplano region, featuring panpipes (zampona) and flute (qena) with guitar and charango (armadillo-shelled lute). Dressed in Andean traditional attire, Los Chaskis were similarly energetic and flamboyant.”

Founded by Sydney musician Linsey Pollak, the North Perth Ethnic Music Centre laid the foundations for the world music scene in Perth, and eventually evolved into Kulcha in the 1990s.

Cain says Pollak was the driving force behind the early years of the Centre and made a concerted effort to nurture female artists including Rita Menendez, Peta Lithgo and Josie Boyle.

Pollak gave immigrant musicians who received little mainstream exposure in WA an opportunity to be heard outside their own expat communities.

“Those early days of the EMC at the North Perth Town Hall were rich,” Cain says. 

“So many musicians of different cultures began emerging and before long it was a scene involving both oversees and Australian-born musicians and dancers. 

“And it’s true to say there was something of an underground vibe because most of this music was hitherto not heard by Perth audiences, played by unknown musicians.

“It was like a microcosm that just grew and blossomed during Linsey Pollak’s brief tenure from 1983-85.”

The Ethnic Music Centre would eventually evolve into Kulcha, another showcase for world music launched in Fremantle in 1994. 

Cain went on to form bands with musicians he met at Kulcha over the past 30 years including the Daramad with Iranian and Australian-born musicians, and Eastwinds with musicians from Estonia, Iran, Japan and Australia.

Sadly Kulcha folded in 2014 and the only remnant of the Ethnic Music Centre left is World Music Cafe, a Kulcha-offshoot which showcases artists in venues across Perth.

Cain will give a special talk about the early days of the North Perth Ethnic Music Centre featuring archive recordings of The Roma Band and Los Chaskis, a slide-show, and a Zoom interview with founder Pollak.

The event is on at 6pm tomorrow (Sunday June 26) at the PS art space on Pakenham Street in Fremantle. Tix at https://events.ticketbooth.com.au/event/hemispheres-presents-revisiting-the-emc

by STEPHEN POLLOCK

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s