Singer and songwriter Archie Roach is giving Australian music all he can, returning to South Australia to open the WOMADelaide music festival on Friday night.
Despite a debilitating chronic illness, Roach is returning for his seventh appearance at WOMAD since 1992, when the festival began.
The powerful advocate for First Nations peoples said sharing music and stories was his passion.
“I found this connection that I have with people that come to see me play and tell stories from stage,” he said.
“It’s an actual relationship that you have with [the] audience and they’ve helped me through the years.”
Roach has been battling chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and was critically ill when he performed at his induction into the ARIA hall of fame last November.
He said those who come to see him give him life.
“I’m not being forced to do this; because of my health, in fact, I actually argue with people, ‘nah I want to do this, I’m just doing what I want to do,'” Roach said.
“This [oxygen] enables me to do what I love to do… people need to understand that I’m OK, really.”
Tough times embracing a new world
During the pandemic, Roach was re-recording his first album — Charcoal Lane — at his kitchen table.
“It’s different, the feel of the songs, it’s like the songs have grown with me through the years, as I’ve grown and it’s like old friends catching up with each other.”
Roach said although he could not perform live, he learnt to embrace performing online.
“It’s different. You’ve just got to put yourself in a place where, if you’re talking to camera, then you’ve just got to imagine that there’s people there,” he said.
“It’s strange at first but I could seem to do that, imagine.”
Roach was brought to tears when talking about his old friend and mentor, Australian music figure Michael Gudinski, who died at the age of 68 this week.
“He was a great supporter of First Nations, or Indigenous or Torres Straight Islander musicians,” he said.
“He’s given us that chance, but more than that, he became a great friend, it’s going to be a little bit lonelier — Australian music has lost a great champion, that’s for sure.
“Especially the last couple of years, he’s been a great supporter of what we do.
“I remember him saying to me, ‘I come to see your show and you actually do a little bit more than just sing songs, Archie.’
“He understood then what it was, I actually try and bring people together through my music and stories and get a better understanding of who we are as a people and he realised that.”
While promoters have called this Roach’s farewell to WOMAD, it won’t be if he can help it.
“If they ask for me back, I’d love to come again,” Roach said.