Eight memorable highlights from The Boite’s four-decade legacy

Eight memorable highlights from The Boite’s four-decade legacy

wmc13 Vinod Prassana
wmc13 Mindy Wang
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Words by Augustus Welby

Bringing a world of music to one city.

The Boite has been providing an integral platform for artists from diverse cultural backgrounds for 40 years. To celebrate the milestone, we look back at eight of the most significant events from the organisation’s four-decade history.

The Boite’s first Melbourne concert

The Boite celebrated its 40th birthday on June 1 this year. It’s the same as that on which the organisation held its first concert at the Actors Theatre on Church Street, Richmond in 1979. The performers included Andean folk band Apurima, Greek musicians the Tsourdalakis Brothers and Indigenous performers Bwung-Gul. Apurima featured a 15-year-old Chilean musician named Alex Vargas who reconnected with The Boite in recent years and played at the organisation’s Fabulous 40th Finale Fling in late November.

The Boite joins PBS 106.7FM

Community radio has long played a role in supporting Melbourne’s diverse arts community. In the mid-1980s The Boite began seeking opportunities for coverage on PBS FM, and in 1987 presenter Raymond Mow devoted two consecutive programs to The Boite. This led to a ten-part series on PBS produced and presented by The Boite’s Gwenda Davies, which initiated 16 years of regular broadcasting at the station. The Boite moved to 3CR in 2006, which is where Therese Virtue currently presents Music Sans Frontieres.

The World Music Cafe launches

The heart of The Boite is the World Music Café. With help from a small grant, the café launched in 1989 and by 1990 had settled into its home at the Mark Street Hall in North Fitzroy. The Café hosts intimate acoustic concerts that let musicians engage with receptive audiences and build a profile through regular performance opportunities. Many local and international musicians continue to benefit from the Café’s intimate atmosphere and its emphasis on instruments and musical styles from all over the world. 

The Boite hosts the inaugural Singers’ Festival

The Boite’s inaugural Singers’ Festival took place in Daylesford in 1991. The festival recognises singing as a great gateway for encouraging participation in the arts. The weekend festival continued at the Daylesford Town Hall until 2015, bringing together singers of all ages for workshops, café gigs, special children’s events and a final concert event. Due to floods and encroaching fires, the festival relocated to the Abbotsford Convent in 2016. The 30th annual Singers’ Festival will be held at the Convent on May 2-3, 2020.

The Melbourne Millennium Chorus

The Age referred to the Boite’s Melbourne Millennium Chorus as the highlight of Melbourne’s 1999 music calendar. Led by musical director Melanie Shanahan, the Millennium Chorus was a 400-voice community choir whose performance concluded The Boite Winter Festival.  Bulgarians, South Africans, Zaireans, Georgians, Italians, Maoris and Indigenous Australians were all represented in the inaugural Millennium Chorus, which inspired many followup performances.

Arnold Zable’s ‘The Fig Tree’ adapted into a concert

Australian novelist and human rights advocate Arnold Zable has had a long association with The Boite. The child of Polish-Jewish refugee parents, Zable’s writing draws attention to the rights and experiences of refugees and asylum seekers. In 2003, The Boite partnered with Zable and 17 other artists on a musical adaptation of 2002’s The Fig Tree, which premiered at the National Folk Festival in Canberra. The Fig Tree CD went on to win Screensound Australia’s Folk album of the year award.

The Boite hosts the first Schools Chorus

In celebration of 25 years since the organisation’s debut concert in Melbourne, The Boite hosted the first Schools Chorus. The concert brought 300 students from 17 schools across Victoria to Arts Centre Melbourne’s flagship music venue, Hamer Hall. The Schools Chorus performed an adaptation of Flight, which the Millennium Chorus had premiered in 2002 and explores refugee issues in Victoria. The Schools Chorus is valued for its inclusivity and contribution to performance and inter-personal skills.

The Mai Fali Eh! project

Mai Fali Eh means “come home” in Tetum, one of Timor-Leste’s two official languages. It’s also the name of a groundbreaking community engagement program The Boite launched in 2012, which shared the languages, stories and culture of Timor-Leste with thousands of participants. The project was developed with members of Timorese communities in Timor-Leste and Victoria, as well as the Australian Timor-Leste friendship network. Millennium Choir members performed in outfits commissioned from weaving co-operatives in Timor-Leste.

As part of the 40th Anniversary, The Boite has launched its own history website. Find out about The Boite legacy at theboitehistory.org.