He is one of Australia’s most treasured performers. In a voice rich with humanity, filled with joy, pain, love and longing, Archie Roach traces the journey of his people, and gets to the heart of what it means to be human.
Archie Roach is a man of few words. But when he speaks, or sings, those words lift you up, transport you and humble you. He is that rarest of beings … one that sees beyond race, religion, gender and ideology … to get straight to the heart of what it means to be human. What he sees at the heart of humanity is love. And love, in all its glorious, unruly incarnations is the basis for his latest album, the soulful “Let Love Rule”.
When his debut album “Charcoal Lane” was released in 1990, the impact was immediate. Critics were quick to realise Archie’s soulful vocals and heartfelt lyrics heralded the emergence of a major new artist. The album’s centrepiece, “Took the Children Away”, shone a spotlight on the impact of the forcible removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from their families and brought it to the attention of the global community. The single won an international Human Rights Achievement Award (the first time ever awarded for a song), while the album was certified gold and won two ARIA Awards.
The release of the album also introduced audiences to Archie’s own extraordinary story. As one of the Stolen Generations removed under these government policies, Archie grew up in foster homes and met his partner, Ruby Hunter, while living on the streets. The pair, who shared a deep love of music, formed a lifelong bond. The couple had two sons, turned their lives around and went on to foster and raise an extended family of homeless children, while their musical partnership took them onto stages across Australia and around the world.
Archie followed the release of his debut album with 1993’s “Jamu Dreaming”. Musically, the album explored new territory while continuing to traverse themes of love, family and culture.
In 2007, his album “Journey”, a companion piece to the “Liyarn Ngarn” documentary, was released. The film documented the journey Archie made with his friend, the late British actor Pete Postlethwaite, and political leader Patrick Dodson.
The men covered the troubled landscape of modern Aboriginal Australia in the hope of reawakening a discussion of the many issues faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and of Reconciliation.
Archie continued to collect awards, including a Deadly Award for Outstanding Contribution to Indigenous Music with Ruby Hunter and again in 2008 they shared a Sidney Myer Performing Arts Award for their contribution to Australia’s performing arts.
In early 2010, Archie’s life took a dramatic turn with Ruby’s sudden death. Struggling to cope with the loss of his soul mate, Archie suffered a massive stroke that left him temporarily paralysed along his right side, unable to talk, walk or play his guitar. After intensive rehabilitation Archie briefly returned to performing. In 2011 he was diagnosed with cancer and was facing an operation to remove half of his lung.
Any one of these obstacles could have been career ending, but a year later, Archie returned with a new album, “Into the Bloodstream”. It did not dwell on tragedy nor lean on the impressive legacy of his career. Hailed in many quarters as a rebirth, the album proved Archie was as relevant in 2012 as he was when “Charcoal Lane” first propelled him into the national spotlight. “Into the Bloodstream” collected numerous awards, but perhaps more importantly, the healing effect of that record – on Archie and his audiences – provided a way for him to begin to live again.
To accompany the album release, Archie toured nationally performing at major festivals across the country. In 2013 the live show was nominated for a Helpmann Award and later that year, “Took the Children Away” was added to the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra, acknowledging its significance in Australian cultural and social history.
Archie’s commitment to raising awareness and being a catalyst for change remains undiminished. Off the stage, he has become a spokesperson for social justice, working with young people caught up in the criminal justice system and mentoring many young and emerging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. In 2015, this was formally recognised when he was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his services to music and his support of social justice.
Musically, his work continues to be recognised locally and internationally. He has collaborated with the finest musicians in the country, including Paul Kelly, Emma Donovan, Troy Cassar-Daley, Christine Anu, Vika and Linda Bull, Shane Howard and Dan Sultan. He has toured with some of the world’s most iconic artists, including Leonard Cohen, Rodriguez, Bob Dylan, Tracy Chapman, Billy Bragg, Paul Simon, Joan Armatrading, Suzanne Vega and Patti Smith.
Archie Roach’s latest album, “Let Love Rule” was released on 23 September 2016. Unlike his early albums, “Let Love Rule” was written around a definite concept.
“On this album I wanted to explore the theme of love – what it is, what it means,” said Archie. “I wanted to write about love, or a willingness to love all people.” He was concerned by what he saw happening in the world and particularly in Australia. “We are closing ourselves off and not letting people in. And not just in the sense of not letting them into the country, but not letting them into our hearts, into our minds. This country was built on people coming here from other countries. That’s what made Australia what it is today.”