Meet Narratives of Neighbourhood, the new podcast premiering as part of Melbourne Music Week – Extended.
What makes a suburb what it is? What ties communities together?
Is it the bustle of its streets, shoes shuffling along crowded paths? The hum of streetlamps over people chattering and eating? Music, spilling out of homes or venues, or on the street, maybe being busked? Or the squeal of trams, dings piercing the quiet early morning before carriages are packed with punters like tins of sardines?
What about a place’s history, its First Peoples to its most recent migrants, an ever-unfolding tapestry of change and belonging?
Recently launched as part of Melbourne Music Week – Extended, Narratives of Neighbourhood: Soundscapes of Community Space, a new podcast series created by Xan Coppinger, in partnership with Music in Exile, explores life in four Melbourne suburbs through sounds, music and conversations.
The four-part series, to be released online each week, explores North Melbourne, Kensington, Carlton and Docklands/Southbank through the diverse voices of the music industry.
Music in Exile is an initiative which creates space and elevates the voices of artists in culturally and linguistically-diverse communities, and their motto is “nothing about us without us”.
“I started following where the story wanted to go and needed to be told, and making sure that there was an equal spread of different experiences, different ages, different demographics,” Coppinger says.
The first instalment of the series – centred around North Melbourne – is spellbinding in its intimacy, as Coppinger invites the audience on a journey through the suburbs, asking them to question how they connect with the people and place.
“In our current climate, how do we each want to acknowledge and reinvigorate the importance of community engagement in our city. How does music connect us?’” she asks the listener.
It is grounding that the podcast’s first contributor voice is Uncle Colin Hunter, a Wurundjeri elder. After an acknowledgement of Country, Hunter speaks of the importance of First Nations oral storytelling across the city’s northern suburbs – striking home the significance of the series’ audio medium.
“We’re not a written culture, we’re a spoken culture,” Hunter says.
He explains how his family would go from North Melbourne to Fitzroy, to be with community and share stories.
“They’d head around to where the fig tree was, to the soap box, and have a discussion around there, because that’s where they’d find their family or their community,” he says.
The project is described as a response to coronavirus and isolation in Melbourne, bringing communities together in the celebration of their suburbs through sharing and storytelling.
Another of the podcast’s voices, an historian introduced as Lorna, says the spirit of community in North Melbourne has been strengthened by the pandemic because people refuse to tolerate inequality and discrimination.
“It’s unworthy of who we are,” Lorna says. “The community has undergone suffering in an heroic way. It has become patient and careful, because that is the way forward.
“People have left notes at my door, offering to help me. They’ve left loaves of bread that they’ve made at home for me, as a gesture.”
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The soprano of birdsong and the sweep of windy gusts through bowing eucalyptus branches create visceral soundscapes, using field recordings local to each suburb to evoke place. When the breathy brass begins and ends, it’s like a meandering, conversational dream.
Episodes are around an hour long, containing eight or nine contributors including the likes of Neil Morris of hip hop outfit DRMNGNOW and Isobel D’Cruz Barnes of punk rock heroes Hexdebt. Coppinger believes each interviewee brought something intrinsic to the pod.
“Each voice was so important and central that I wouldn’t be able to pick a favourite or say that any single voice encapsulated it, because I think every single voice that I heard from made it so clear that it’s such an intensely intricate topic,” Coppinger says.
Coppinger, who has previously put together a whopping 20-part podcast series with Music in Exile called Exile Radio, says the new series should be an ongoing discussion about diversity and place.
Narratives of Neighbourhood manages to dissect the intersections between music, art, culture, performance, geography, history and identity, and its conversations will stick with you.
“This podcast is just the start of a conversation, because no single voice should represent a community or speak on behalf of an entire community,” Coppinger says.
Listen to the first episode of Narratives of Neighbourhood via the Melbourne Music Week website. Ensuing episodes will be released on Wednesday January 20, January 27 and February 3.
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