In the heart of Melbourne, thousands of kilometers away from the birthplace of the legendary Warumpi Band in Papunya, Northern Territory, musician Jason Butcher rehearses for the upcoming production of “Big Name, No Blankets.” Despite the distance from his community, the iconic stories and melodies of Warumpi Band bring him closer to home. Rock theatre honours legend of Australia’s Warumpi Band.
Founded in 1980 by Sammy Butcher, along with Gordon Butcher, Neil Murray, and George Rrurrambu Burarrwanga, Warumpi Band made history as the first rock outfit to sing in Aboriginal languages. Hits like “My Island Home” and “Blackfella/Whitefella” became integral parts of the Australian songbook.
The Sydney Festival is set to premiere “Big Name, No Blankets,” a production that delves into the emotional journey of Warumpi Band’s rise to fame. Jason Butcher, part of the onstage backing band, shares that rehearsing his father’s songs has been a tearful yet fulfilling experience. “This is what he wanted, to tell the stories … he just wanted to let it out so everyone can feel better,” he said.
The show, named after the band’s 1985 album, aims to present more than just a traditional theater experience. It weaves storytelling seamlessly into a rock concert, allowing audiences to experience the iconic tale of Warumpi Band in a unique and immersive way.
Rachael Maza, co-director of the show, emphasizes the importance of involving the Butcher family to tell the story through their eyes. Sammy Butcher, now an elder in the Papunya community, played a crucial role in the show’s development, emphasizing the cultural significance of the band’s legacy.
“Big Name, No Blankets” is not just a reflection of the Warumpi Band’s journey; it serves as a celebration of cultural unity. Maza believes that, for a moment in time, the band symbolizes the coming together of blackfellas and whitefellas to celebrate their shared Australian identity.
As the rehearsal room buzzes with joy and enthusiasm, Maza suggests that the show might be the one Australia needs after the failed referendum vote. “Maybe the ancestors are smiling on us, because all the right people are in the room,” she said.
The Sydney Festival marks the premiere of “Big Name, No Blankets,” but there are hopes that the show will travel to communities in the Northern Territory, connecting with the roots of Warumpi Band’s legacy. Actor Baykali Ganambarr, who plays the role of Sammy Butcher, envisions taking the production back to Papunya and Elcho Island, completing the full circle of Warumpi Band’s remarkable journey.
“Big Name, No Blankets” is not just a theatrical experience; it’s a celebration of Australian cultural heritage, inviting audiences to witness the profound impact of Warumpi Band on the nation’s musical landscape.
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