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Australasian World Music Expo opening night performance

Play House Theatre Arts Centre Melbourne November 14 2013. 
Michael Dwyer –  Melbourne Age, Sydney Morning Herald

Solidarity doesn’t need to raise its voice. Forming an imposing line across the lip of the stage, Barefoot Divas identified themselves quietly in turn – name and heritage in proud languages from Arnhem Land to Aotearoa – and shared a hushed incantation beginning ”My feet have carried me”.

Fame rhymed with pain; red earth with giving birth. ”My ankles wobbled in times of loss/ I’ve learned to be my only boss.” The repeated refrain was ”Long way.”

Sisters who knew that road were hollering affirmations from the dark even before willowy Maori soul singer Maisey Rika hit the first long, ululating note of this year’s Australasian Worldwide Music Expo.

Common ground poetically established, the power of the six indigenous performers turned out to be more about individual radiance than harmony. Sure, their backing vocals made a fine feather bed and lapping ocean from one song to the next, but even a shoeless diva knows how to hold a spotlight. Ngaiire, from New Guinea, was in constant danger of stealing it, even from the sidelines in her magnificent, voluminous party frock and headdress. Her Two Minds was a sinuous example of song craft that skirted soul tradition en route to some place more mysterious.

Equally commanding in her own way was Merenia, who described her lineage as Maori, Welsh and Romany, but sang her first tune in Spanish and danced a dazzling accompaniment – in platform heels – to emphasise her fluency.

Whirimako Black was an earthy voice of calm in English and Te Reo, minimally accompanied by the exceptionally adaptable Barefoot Band and, during the Ipanema-styled Wahine Whakairo, by a spectacular whirl of the poi pom-poms by Rika.

The Black Arm Band’s Emma Donovan hit the most poignant note with Ngarraanga, her gospel lament for stolen children and lost identity. But it was Darwin-born actor-singer-songwriter Ursula Yovich who let loose the unspoken rage with a soliloquy about personal dispossession: a note of naked confrontation in a journey of quiet deliberation. Long way, long way.

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Australian Media

Barefoot Divas Stun Sydney!’ “A new show called ‘Walk a Mile in my Shoes’ has become the surprise hit of the Sydney festival. World News Australia

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“I felt like I was lying on my side on lush grass and these beautiful women performers were pouring nectar into my ear – and it was running down into my soul. It was the integrity as much as the accomplishment, the gift for ‘healing’ these empowered women artists possess. I don’t believe you have to be autobiographically connected – I am pretty sure most people in the audience felt the same way. It’s to do with the preservation of centuries-old truths in the bodies of these women – what makes them Indigenous artists. And they remind us how ‘emptied out’ so much of our own culture has become.” James Waites (Sydney Theatre Critic)

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WHEN an audience member approached Papua New Guinean soul songstress Ngaiire after one of her solo shows last year, he could only muster a one sentence review. “I don’t believe in God,” he said shyly, “but you have opened up parts of me I never knew I had.” Whether or not you believe in divinity, being in the presence of Ngaiire and her fellow soul sisters — the bold and brashy Barefoot Divas — is an undeniably otherworldly experience. Daily Telegraph

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 “With Barefoot Divas, Vicki Gordon has done a wonderful thing for humanity. Barefoot Divas is a truly illuminating, heart-warming, spine-tingling experience that will resonate for audiences of all walks of life. The voices are exquisite and the unique qualities all six women possess are powerfully combined in performances that are a tour de force. Whirimako Black takes you deep down to the very source, Maisey Riki will haunt you, Ngaiire astounds you with her dramatic flair, Merenia sends sparks flying, Ursula is a balm to the soul and Emma Donovan is as rich and nurturing as the ground beneath your feet. You will come away from ‘Walk a Mile in My Shoes’ reminded of the beauty, integrity, humor, heartache and joy that encapsulate the human experience and which these six extraordinary women exemplify in the highest form.” ABC TV NEWS 24 Miriam Corowa

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“I arrived in Sydney a little bruised, a little sore, a little broken. I now have these songs, these words like splints on my wings and I feel to fly again!” Romaine Morton (Aboriginal Poet, Story teller and Film Maker)

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Beholding the mesmerising magnificence of the Barefoot Divas, each of whom uniquely challenged their bewildered audience to “walk a mile in my shoes” of which they wore none; one could not help but gratefully accede to the powerful and moving ability of indigenous song and music to capture the heart, challenge the mind and enrapture both body and soul – equally pulsating from the sensory, whilst elevating to the sublime. Femininity and Motherhood: Heaven truly kissed the Earth. Bishop Irinej (Serbian Orthodox Bishop of Australia and New Zealand)

Audience Response

Caught the dress rehearsal @ CARRIAGEWORKS ART CENTRE… 6 of the hottest contemporary Indigenous Women Artist Entertainers Storytellers & singers… A RARE show of this Caliber only comes along thru the courage, vision & blending of producers, amazing musicians & talent extraordinaire… Each voice, each story, each artist is SATISFYING but COLLECTIVELY & UNITED AS ONE VOICE, I have felt the most POWERFUL FORCE MOTHER NATURE COULD BLESS OUR HEART & SOULS WITH. Maori (Male)

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If there’s one show in your lifetime…. THIS IS IT!!

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Incredible show. Thank you to these incredible women for sharing their hearts and voices with us. LOVED it. Tops work to whoever came up with this idea. Did make me think of Aunty Ruby whom I am sure would have been part of a show like this had she been still with us xx.

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Shine your lights ladies. You illuminate humanity for what it can be.

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OMG…best ever show I have ever watched…and I’ve seen a few shows on Broadway in NY….you girls worked…in the first 5 min I had tears in my eyes…sweet, sweet sounds like I’ve never heard be4…great job…

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Manganui maata teia vaine katoa imene te imene o te vaerua tapu, te mana te aroha, reka reka tatou katoa te angaanga o te ngakau, akaperepere nei au teia vaine i toku anau. We all were healed and moved magically transformed with these beautiful women that sang there sacred songs of the heart and we were delighted to experience such workings of the mysterious soul, I cherish these Sisters as my family. Thankyou Maisey, Whirimako, Emma, Ngaiire, Ursula, Merenia…you ladies Rock!

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A brilliant performance. One of the best I’ve seen for ages. The personalities of the girls, their strong culture and their wonderful music all shone through. I hope they make a CD or DVD of this concert..Many more people should have the opportunity to hear their songs and their stories.

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It was a privilege to see and hear this show. The music, the performances, the stories were outstanding. Something to remember. Hopefully they go on and allow more people to experience their show.

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I had the pleasure of seeing this show today. It was the first run through in front of an audience and it was spectacular. These girls are magnificent. It gives me hope that we are at least starting to listen to each other, and these girls certainly have some stories to tell.