By: Ann Svilar
"My music was always my own little world, and I've just sort of built on that world," says Xavier Rudd. A more organic Keller Williams, Rudd's often one-man show is a world of many loops and layers. He stomps on a box, plays acoustic guitar, taps on a drum and breathes into a didgeridoo, all at the same time. In demeanor, Rudd sings and speaks with the sensitivity of a man who has traveled and seen a lot.
Physically, Rudd looks like the quintessential white Australian surfer-boy: blond, tan and with a laidback presence that comes from the beach. He bares a lack of arrogance on stage that translates over into conversation. He carries a thick Australian accent and uses words like "fella" regularly.
To understand why the multi-instrumentalist has chosen a life of music one must trace his roots. He lists as inspirations in his musical journey Aboriginal culture, trees, Australia, his home, surfing, people, and, repeatedly, his family. Rudd's career was originally fostered by his wife Marci, who encouraged Rudd to start playing live. It is her faith that eventually sent him out into the world as a touring artist. "For the last eight years, she has been my solid partner in life," Rudd says. "I didn't have a lot of confidence and she encouraged me. My core is at home and my roots come through. I'm always searching for those same connections and trying to understand those connections."
The didgeridoo, also called the yidaki or yidarki, is possibly the world's oldest wind instrument. It originated amongst the indigenous people of Australia, and Rudd plays three yidakis hollowed out by termites that are mounted protectively in a row in front of him onstage. Rudd brings his native instrument to a predominantly Caucasian, mainstream audience here in the U.S. Opening for Dave Matthews Band and making friends with Jack Johnson hasn't yet made Rudd a household name, but it has recruited a portion of their fans. He now plays 1,000-3,000 person venues and sells out places like San Francisco's Fillmore.
Such exposure has the potential for his special instrument to be exploited or watered down, but Rudd plays with deep respect for the people who have come before him. He's been playing the didgeridoo since he was young, but five years ago he was adopted as a "skin brother" by a "spirit player," a big deal in Aboriginal culture. While Rudd plays his own music and not the traditional rhythms, he says their spirit moves through the instrument.
| Xavier Rudd|
White Moth (released June 4, 2007 by Anti- Records) is Rudd's fourth album, and the third to be released in the States. Lyrically, it is a compilation of music that speaks about environmentalism, his family and Australia's indigenous people, including guest vocals from Aboriginal singers. Rudd says, "All the songs tell stories."
"Land Rights" is a story about a sacred space in Australia, Mt. Nhulun. Nhulunboy is the port town where the Yolngu and Macassan traded back when there was a land bridge between Papa New Guinea and Australia. In the '60s Europeans began a mining operation on the site. Up to that point the Aboriginal people were mellow and peaceful. In the '60s, the Yolngu people stood with spears in hand at Mt. Nhulun in defiance of the European's mining operation, marking the first uprising and opening the door to many other uprisings surrounding land and their rights. Rudd wrote a song about the event after visiting the mountain and feeling the spirit there.
They said this our home
These are our rights
Ooooh, this is our home these are our rights
Country it was taken
Land, our God
Spirits were crushed
The language that was silenced
Still free to be past
The cup that was empty is slowly filling up
So we can pull together show our children in this time
You see, 'cause this our home, these are our rights
A sad song titled "Anni Kookoo" follows "Land Rights" and closes White Moth. Anni Kookoo was the sister to an "Aboriginal fella" who is Rudd's friend. Anni Kookoo died of alcoholism last year, a common illness amongst Australia's native population. Rudd's friend asked if he would write the song, which was a challenging proposition because he doesn't usually write along these lines. He attempted the song and says, "The spirit flowed out of me."
The Fillmore, January 9, 2008
As the show opens, a mini movie begins. First, a screen of leafy trees is projected onto the stage's backdrop. Then, there are people, faces, scenes, some unsettling. I hear what I think is chanting, but there is no one onstage. Words like "drugs," "war," "destroy," "vanity" and "terrorism" flash repetitively in this little movie. It is a message before the show begins. I can feel the floor bouncing beneath me. I hear the anxious chatter of the people next to me, lighters clicking, people screaming, and then finally, the awakening sounds of a didgeridoo.
| Xavier Rudd :: 01.09.08 by Oz McGuire|
There is an unbridled reaction to Rudd as he opens the show with "G.B.A." from 2004's Solace. He is swallowed by his instruments. "I know, I see, I feel and yes, I fear it everyday," he sings. The movie is still playing behind him, faces flashing, words repeating. "It's such a shame that all this shit exists, here on this Earth, this magical place," he comments.
The images behind him turn into surfers, then swirling strings of pearl necklaces and what looks like patterns I've seen on rugs in New Mexico. A guy next to me starts to scream, which turns into the growl of a bear, like he is calling to his totem animal. He doesn't stop until well into the first half of a two-hour show. His date joins him, calling out like a wolf.
"Lots of spirits in there," Rudd says about The Fillmore. "I felt it the last time I was there, too." The lights go from red to white and sometimes green. "I'm doing fine," sings Rudd. Songs like "Food in the Belly," "Flames" and "Twist" soon follow. The room has a tropical mugginess.
During the encore Rudd plays Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," pulling himself out from the pile of instruments he's typically encased in. Rudd tilts his head up towards the ceiling, and then looks out at the crowd. He smiles.
JamBase | Spirit World
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