East Journey | Journeys from Arnhem Land to LA and beyond

Arian Pearson is a Yolgnu man. He’s articulate and charming (seriously, he asked me out on a date during our interview). He works as a tour guide in Nuhlunboy in NE Arnhem Land, but he’s also one of the men who make up East Journey.

He spoke to our editor, Samantha Morris on the day The Genesis Project dropped. The ten track EP consists of previous material that has been rewritten and rearranged by original Yothu Yindi members Ben Hakalitz, Buruka Tau and Stu Kellawayin collaboration with East Journey.
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The press release I have in front of me talks about the band’s recent trip to LA for Australia Day celebrations. I ask Arian what it’s like flying into a city like LA when you come from a town like Nhulunbuy

“It’s huge,” Arian said. “It can be confronting. But I did the New York Marathon in 2011 – as part of the Indigenous Marathon Project – and it was a great opportunity to experience that and city lifestyle.”

“It went really well,” he said of the LA event. “It was sort of our first or second time doing a red carpet kind of thing. We did the Deadly Awards in 2013 – that was our first. So yearh, we were sort of ready for it – worked up to it. But it was still quite surreal when we first got there,” he said.

I ask Arian about his thoughts on being Indigenous and playing at an Australia Day event when there are mixed feelings about celebrating the day Australia was invaded.

“My father is only half Indigenous,” he said. “So you know, I think that part of the reason you do music is for unity. We want to unite people. It doesn’t matter what race or background, whether Indigenous or not. We all live together in this peaceful country of ours and I’m pretty proud to represent Australians and Indigenous Australians.”

“We want to educate people about our culture and what we value as Indigenous Australians, but we also value education and unity and understanding eachother,” he said.

Malngay Yunupingu, Arian Pearson, Ngalkanbuy Mununggurr photo credit to WayneQuilliamEJ_1631 copy 2

We go on to talk about the musical heritage that is prevalent amongst Yolgnu people.

“It’s always been very musical up here,” Arian said. “Our songlines date back 40,000 years, you know. I mean, we were making music 40,000 years ago. So musically we go back that far. But we’ve managed to integrate the mainstream into our music and we use the old songlines and interpret them and educate people about connection to the land and the things within it.”

Some of the songs on The Genesis Project project are sung in traditional language and Arian talks about the importace of keeping Yolgnu language alive.

“I mean up here, it’s sort of like the last frontier,” he said. “There hasn’t been that impact of cultural loss, that cultural sort of identity around connection to country and where your spirit is. Your language is the most important thing,” he said. “It’s part of your identity, your foundation, your true self – it’s where you are and where you come from.”

I’ve been to NE Arnhem land myself and visited the school at Yirrkala. I asked Arian about how the Yolgnu language is taught and he tells me that English is absolutely the second language up there. The school at Yirrkala is one of the few bilingual schools in Australia. By coincidence, his mother is the Vice Principal there.

While Arian plays guitar in East Journey his first instrument was the drums. When he became interested in guitar, he taught himself. “My brother, lead singer, Rowan – he’s a singer/songwriter and I sort of linked up and started writing songs and it grew from there,” he said. “We dreamt of making a band and created East Journey.”

You will already be familiar with some of the musicians who have come out of Yolgnu country – Yothu Yindi, Gurrumul probably at the top of that list, and Arian tells me he had a lot of role models growing up.
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“My brother is a role model because he is a songwriter and he toured with Yothu Yindi. I guess I always dreamt of being in a band and writing my own songs,” Arian said.  “It’s really hard for a lot of musicians – it’s a lot of hard work getting out there and if you don’t have that support behind you it can be really hard at times,” he said. “We’re just really lucky we have great support, lots of organisations, our community behind us, our management is very well structured. We’re just really happy that we have all this great support.”

So, what’s the reaction to East Journey’s music been like?

“It’s a huge opportunity for us to work with Stevie,” Arian said. He’s referring to Stevie Salas who has worked with an incredible list of musicians internationally.

“And this new EP The Genesis Project, working alongside Yothu Yindi. It’s a huge opportunity. It’s been great. We’ve had a lot of good feedback from different areas – from our community and from the outside.”

The story about how Stevie Salas came to work with East Journey is interesting. He was searching for young Indigenous bands coming through the ranks and happened to stumble across East Journey on Facebook.

“And he contacted us,” Arian said.

I ask Arian if he has any advice for young Indigenous musicians and he says the main thing is to always, always believe in yourself.

“Don’t give up on your dreams –follow your dreams, even if you don’t succeed you can try again.

 

The Genesis Project featuring Yothu Yindi is out now.

Photo Credits: Wayne Quilliam

 

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