Archie Roach has died, and the world has lost an amazing musician and activist. According to the Guardian:
The Indigenous Australian songwriter and activist Archie Roach has been praised as a "courageous" and "powerful" truth-teller, as leading figures in politics and the arts mourn his passing.
Roach died aged 66, after a long illness, surrounded by his family and loved ones at Warrnambool Base Hospital.
"We are heartbroken to announce the passing of Gunditjmara (Kirrae Whurrong/Djab Wurrung), Bundjalung Senior Elder, songman and storyteller Archie Roach," his family announced late on Saturday.
Roach had a long rich life of music and activism, although he's probably best known for his song "Took the Children Away," which tells the story of "The Stolen Generations," an experience he also lived through—he was forcibly removed from his family when he was two, and placed in an orphanage. According to Common Ground:
The Stolen Generations refers to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were removed from their families between 1910 and 1970. This was done by Australian federal and state government agencies and church missions, through a policy of assimilation.
Under this policy, the forcible removal of First Nations children was made legal. Assimilation was based on a belief of white superiority and black inferiority, and presumed that "full-blood" Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would naturally die out. It proposed that children with Aboriginal and white parentage, who were termed "half-caste" (now considered an extremely derogatory term), should be assimilated into white society. It was believed these children would be more easily assimilated due to their lighter skin.
Children were separated from their families and forced to adopt a white culture. They were forbidden to speak their traditional languages or refer to themselves by the names that they were given by their parents. Most children were placed in institutions where neglect and abuse was common. Some children were adopted by white families throughout the country, and many of these children were used for domestic work. The impact was felt both by the families who had their children taken away, and by the children themselves.
If you don't know his work, I'd highly recommend checking it out. To learn more about him you can also watch the documentary about him and his wife Ruby Hunter (who died in 2010). The film is called "Wash My Soul in the Rivers Flow," and is described as "A story in song about a woman, a man and a river. A story of loss, love and the healing power of music."
I was introduced to Archie Roach through Briggs, an Indigenous Australian musician who NME describes as, "rapper, label boss, comedy writer, actor, author, cultural commentator and Australian hip-hop gamechanger." In 2015 Briggs released a song, featuring Gurrumul and Dewayne Everettsmith, called "The Children Came Back," which is a kind of sequel to Roach's "Took the Children Away." The YouTube page for the song describes it this way:
The Children Came Back advances the story and pays homage to Took The Children Away. Archie Roach released the song 25 years ago from the seminal album Charcoal Lane and it's with his blessings, this new sequel of a song is released to champion Black excellence and remind us of the amazing things achieved since. Jimmy Little, Adam Goodes, Lionel Rose, Patty Mills are just some of the greats referenced within this almighty shout-out by Briggs. "I love Briggs' song. It's about our Indigenous heroes. Using a part of my song, where it says 'the children came back' is really what the song is about. I feel proud to be a part of what Briggs hopes to achieve and I really love that he used young children to play the heroes because they are our future heroes." –Archie Roach
The compelling clip features Briggs with Archie Roach, Paul Kelly and the very brave 3-year-old Samara Muir who recently made prime time mainstream TV with news of her distressing experience of racism by kids her own age. Just like its predecessor Bad Apples from the highly acclaimed sophomore release Sheplife (Golden Era Records) this clip has the power to reach into the hearts of a conscious Australia, and from there to take root and grow into the wider psyche. Thanks to Reconciliation Australia the film clip for The Children Came Back is released on July 3rd to coincide with NAIDOC Week and is a collaboration between Golden Era artist Briggs & Skinnyfish Music artists.
And here's a live version for Australian radio station triple j's special NAIDOC week of Like A Version that's just spectacular, and a great tribute to Archie Roach. Rest in Peace.