‘A very rare experience for me’: Justin Wellington embraces his cultural roots for PASIFIX

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‘A very rare experience for me’: Justin Wellington embraces his cultural roots for PASIFIX

Justin Wellington
Words by Jacob McCormack

A performative event that celebrates the culture and music of artists with Pacific Island roots, PASIFIX is set to return for a night filled with energy at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

Showcasing artists that play popular reggae, soul and hip-hop, the one-night event – on Saturday March 18 as part of Arts Centre Melbourne’s Live at the Bowl program – will also present spectacular cultural performers from the Pacific region.

As an all-ages event and welcoming of all demographics, PASIFIX is designed to celebrate the potency of the Pacific community in Australia and the significant impact that artists are having on the contemporary music scene.

Stay up to date with what’s happening in and around Melbourne here.

Behind the curation and direction of the event is the ARIA-nominated musician Airileke, whose 2012 album Weapon Of Choice catapulted the artist onto the music scene within Australia and the Pacific. In collaboration with Gaba Musik, this year’s version of the event is shaping up to be a cultural and artistic spectacle.

Featuring on the lineup is musician Justin Wellington, whose prolific discography has seen him establish a far-reaching global audience. He is set to perform alongside the notable act Sorong Samarai. Wellington was born in Papua New Guinea, a country where he spent the early years of his life, and now resides in Cairns but is exceedingly excited about making the trip south to Melbourne for the show.

“It’s very exciting,” says Wellington. “I will be coming to Melbourne for a few days to rehearse and prepare with the entire group. I have been seeing the promo videos for the show and it looks amazing. I have never actually seen Sorong Samarai live before, but I have heard they are amazing. I think the show as a whole is very impressive. For me, it will be a very exciting experience, both the preparation before and the show itself.”

Wellington’s very excited for the opportunity to play with a full band, as well as the configuration of instruments that are set to be involved.

“When I am doing bigger shows my preferred configuration is to have a DJ, with a guitarist and then the lineup can expand from there,” says Wellington. “Whether that’s percussionists, with backing vocalists or other feature vocalists.

“Every so often I get to experience something like PASIFIX. It’s going to be something that I don’t get to do all the time, like playing with a band, and it is very cultural. The show will be very cultural as opposed to doing commercial music all the time. This will be exemplified in the big band, traditional PNG percussions and singing in Indigenous languages. It’ll be a very rare experience for me, which will be the best part about it.”

As Justin gears up for the unique experience of playing at PASIFIX, he is realistic about how expectations and preconceived ideas arise in the preparation for performances. However, he is trying to stay true to letting all that is involved run its due course and not let expectations govern his experience of playing at the event.

“Obviously in the lead-up to something, you’ve got a preformed image of what it will look and feel like. Normally when it takes place, it looks, feels and unfolds way differently, so you’ve just got to roll with that and have an open mind, going through all those emotions in a positive way.

“A huge part of doing shows, in fact I think it’s the most important part, is connecting with the people that are in attendance watching the show. Every artist has their own style and way of connecting with the audience. In the end, it doesn’t matter so much how it unfolded and the expectations that were apparent, it is more important that an artist connects with the audience and that they get the value and richness from the experience that you are sending to them.”

For Justin, who has been performing live for 20 years now and currently performs several times a week, the notion of audience engagement is paramount. An importance that is involved in gigs irrespective of the scale of them, or the music that is being played.

“Shows are like stories,” says Wellington. “You take people on an experience or ride and hopefully they will hear parts of your library that they wouldn’t necessarily explore or listen to. Obviously, shows don’t reach as much of a possible mass audience as a distributed recording can, but shows are very important and absolutely a big part of my life.

“I am doing them constantly; several times a week and I do a really wide variety of shows. I do more important feature shows where I am focusing mainly on original stuff, but I also do heaps of cover gigs too. I am varied with what I do, but I enjoy it all. I even enjoy just the real small pub venues when there are a dozen people there. Obviously, the big shows are also fun, I enjoy all of it, and I’ve been doing it for 20 years. You can take value from so many different kinds of things.”

And so, it is the opportunity to be a part of a show like PASIFIX that excites Justin greatly, not only because of his devotion to and love of performing live, but because the show will involve a lot of Pacific culture and a chance to perform in a way he often doesn’t get to.

“I don’t fully know what to expect until it all takes place,” says Wellington. “Then you can summarise and be retrospective and get the feeling of it. I expect that it will be a great show and people will love it. Whether that’s the variety or the richness of the performers and what they do and the culture that resides behind that.”

In the interim and leading up to the performance Justin is just attempting to familiarise himself with Sorong Samarai’s music in an immersive way.

“I haven’t experienced the music of a lot of these artists before, but because it is about three to four weeks away, I am immersing in that show as much as I can as well as preparing for my own role.”

PASIFIX is happening on March 18 at Sidney Myer Music Bowl as part of Arts Centre Melbourne’s Live at the Bowl program. For tickets and more information, head here.

Beat is an official media partner of Live at the Bowl.