Uncle Archie Roach
In a voice rich with humanity, filled with joy, pain, love and longing, Archie Roach traces the journey of his people, and gets to the heart of what it means to be human. He is one of Australia’s most treasured performers.
When his debut album “Charcoal Lane” was released in 1990, the impact was immediate. Critics were quick to realise Archie’s soulful vocals and heartfelt lyrics heralded the emergence of a major new artist. The album’s centrepiece, “Took the Children Away”, shone a spotlight on the impact of the forcible removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from their families and brought it to the attention of the global community. The single won an international Human Rights Achievement Award (the first time ever awarded for a song), while the album was certified gold and won two ARIA Awards.
The release of the album also introduced audiences to Archie’s own extraordinary story. As one of the Stolen Generations removed under these government policies, Archie grew up in foster homes and met his partner, Ruby Hunter, while living on the streets. The pair, who shared a deep love of music, formed a lifelong bond. The couple had two sons, turned their lives around and went on to foster and raise an extended family of homeless children, while their musical partnership took them onto stages across Australia and around the world.
Archie followed the release of his debut album with 1993’s “Jamu Dreaming”. Musically, the album explored new territory while continuing to traverse themes of love, family and culture.
Over the following decade, Archie consolidated his success with two more albums - 1997’s “Looking for Butter Boy” and 2002’s “Sensual Being”. Both albums were nominated for ARIA Awards, with “Butter Boy” winning two. During this period Archie won the Deadly Award for Male Artist of the Year three times (in 1997, 1998 and 2002).
These four albums cemented his position as one of our country’s most recognised and revered singer/songwriters. Extensive live performances further established his reputation with shows across the globe. Continuing to explore new musical territory, in 2002, Archie added his vocals to the soundtrack for the Rolf De Heer film “The Tracker”, while a collaboration between Archie, Ruby and the Australian Art Orchestra resulted in the 2005 album and live performances of “Ruby”.
In 2007, his album “Journey”, a companion piece to the “Liyarn Ngarn” documentary, was released. The film documented the journey Archie made with his friend, the late British actor Pete Postlethwaite, and political leader Patrick Dodson. The men covered the troubled landscape of modern Aboriginal Australia in the hope of reawakening a discussion of the many issues faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and of Reconciliation.
Archie continued to collect awards, including a Deadly Award for Outstanding Contribution to Indigenous Music with Ruby Hunter and again in 2008 they shared a Sidney Myer Performing Arts Award for their contribution to Australia’s performing arts.
In early 2010, Archie’s life took a dramatic turn with Ruby’s sudden death. Struggling to cope with the loss of his soul mate, Archie suffered a massive stroke that left him temporarily paralysed along his right side, unable to talk, walk or play his guitar. After intensive rehabilitation Archie briefly returned to performing. In 2011 he was diagnosed with cancer and was facing an operation to remove half of his lung.
Any one of these obstacles could have been career ending, but a year later, Archie returned with a new album, “Into the Bloodstream”. It did not dwell on tragedy nor lean on the impressive legacy of his career. Hailed in many quarters as a rebirth, the album proved Archie was as relevant in 2012 as he was when “Charcoal Lane” first propelled him into the national spotlight. “Into the Bloodstream” collected numerous awards, but perhaps more importantly, the healing effect of that record - on Archie and his audiences – provided a way for him to begin to live again.
To accompany the album release, Archie toured nationally performing at major festivals across the country. In 2013 the live show was nominated for a Helpmann Award and later that year, “Took the Children Away” was added to the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra, acknowledging its significance in Australian cultural and social history.
Archie’s commitment to raising awareness and being a catalyst for change remains undiminished. Off the stage, he has become a spokesperson for social justice, working with young people caught up in the criminal justice system and mentoring many young and emerging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. In 2015, this was formally recognised when he was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his services to music and his support of social justice.
Musically, his work continues to be recognised locally and internationally. He has collaborated with the finest musicians in the country, including Paul Kelly, Emma Donovan, Troy Cassar-Daley, Christine Anu, Vika and Linda Bull, Shane Howard and Dan Sultan. He has toured with some of the world’s most iconic artists, including Leonard Cohen, Rodriguez, Bob Dylan, Tracy Chapman, Billy Bragg, Paul Simon, Joan Armatrading, Suzanne Vega and Patti Smith.
Three decades after the release of “Charcoal Lane”, Archie’s work continues to explore universal themes of love, friendship, family, country and community.
Archie Roach’s latest album, “Let Love Rule” is released on 23 September 2016.