Bittersweet Journey of Archie Roach : Aboriginal Music Artist who plays refuses to be haunted by past
But he does think that as the dominant cultures are finding their societies growing less controllable and less humane, there are important things that can be learned from aboriginal society.
“For me, there’s always been a special feeling among my people and a sense of belonging. Wherever I’ve gone in Australia, I’ve been looked after, just because of the common bond of our heritage that we share.
“In it, each individual is important. In our society right across the board the two most important people are the youngest child and the oldest person. If we don’t ensure that the youngest child and oldest person are well, we aren’t living up to our responsibilities.
“We don’t have a monopoly on spirituality or a monopoly on loving, sharing and caring for one another. It’s just that I suppose we’ve been practicing it for a bit longer.”
Roach met his musician wife Ruby Hunter when they both were homeless and living on the street (he tells a bit of her story in the new song “From Paradise”). Since pulling their lives together, they have taken to practicing what they preach: They not only have two sons but are registered foster parents with three long-term foster children in their home and others whom they take on “while their parents sort out whatever problems they have.
“When things go wrong for you as a child, and you’re not treated as a child should be,” Roach said, “I know I tend to reach out to children so that they don’t get hurt.”
The importance of having a family, he added, helps him keep the bloatedly self-important music business in perspective. It also helps him shape his music. Though the new “Jamu Dreaming” album doesn’t shy away from uneasy issues, it is decidedly more upbeat than his first album, and he said one reason is that he had his family in the studio with him this time.
“It made things a lot easier. Otherwise in the studio, it’s always like you’re down in the bunker. There’s no sense of time or space. Sometimes it can be really demanding and hard work when you’re doing one song for most of the day. To have my family there, and have them singing on some of the songs, makes me realize what I’m singing about. To me, it never has been just getting up and singing a song. But when my family is there it really brings it home.”
Another thing marking the shift in tone between the albums, Roach said, is that “the first album was more about where I’ve been and the sort of life I had. This one is more about my life now and which direction I’m taking.”
The album’s “Love in the Morning” is one of the most ebullient tunes about lovemaking to pop up in years. As opposed to such sleazeball horizontal hits as “Afternoon Delight,” the song has a truly celebratory air, with his wife’s carefree laugh and Roach’s mid-song declaration that “it’s a spiritual thing.”
“We once split up for a while because of the problems we had,” Roach said, “but we came back. For most couples love goes beyond a physical attraction, but it took me a while, because I was drinking and that, for it to become more than a physical thing for me.”
The polar opposite of that song, and the album’s darkest moment, is “Walking Into Doors.” It’s about spousal abuse, and Roach said “it’s a lesson I had to learn myself.
“I got that (title) from a poster against domestic violence I saw in a health clinic. In it there’s this sister sitting on a couch, all busted up bad, and she’s thinking to herself: ‘I’ll just have to tell the doctor I walked into a door again.’
The violence “happens when you’re out of work and spending 24 hours a day with all the frustrations and burdens of the bloody world on your shoulders and you don’t know what to do, and there’s no one else there to have a go at except your missus. We men may never know why we’re that way, but it’s just got to stop,” Roach said.
A great many of Roach’s songs focus on children. To him they’re not just symbols of purity and hope but the living embodiment of those qualities. The most poignant song on “Jamu Dreaming” is “Mr. T,” with its simple lyrics about a special moment rarely marked in songs:
The first time I saw my baby begin to walk,
It made me look. Now he can talk,
And the last time I phoned my baby it made him cry,
And it made me cry. Now I know why,
‘Cause he’s starting to understand the meaning of love
– LA Times ,1993