Freestyle: Australia’s harbinger of change
BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / firstname.lastname@example.org
Is it just me, or can you feel the winds of change blowing? As momentum builds in Hawaii to demand sustainable solutions to our food and energy needs, as warnings about global warming and our endangered oceans take on more urgency, and as the entire nation debates the role of government and other definitive issues (same-sex marriage; the propriety of universal health care), it seems to me that we are approaching a pivotal time, when people can truly influence the course of our future by getting involved, or choosing not to.
Artists are often the vanguard in evolving times, and one might argue Jack Johnson was at the forefront of a current movement. His humane style has inspired countless people in Hawaii as he champions environmental stewardship and the power of loyalty, love and friendship.
While Johnson doesn’t “make big body,” he remains true to his causes, and in the process has struck a chord with admirers worldwide.
HALLOWBALOO MUSIC + ARTS FESTIVAL
With Xavier Rudd, Allen Toussaint and John Cruz, a costume contest and food, drinks and retail booths
» Where: Nuuanu Avenue, Chinatown
Several musicians fall in a category loosely similar to Johnson’s, whether because of their musical style or common concern for our planet. Australia’s Xavier Rudd is one of them, and while he’s not as familiar in Hawaii — his appearance at this weekend’s Hallowbaloo Music + Arts Festival is Rudd’s first in the islands — his ideas and his music are definitely worth your time.
Rudd is admired throughout his home country, and he’s toured the U.S. and other worldwide locations, sometimes sharing a bill with Johnson. His just-completed Australian tour put him together with Kauai’s Donavon Frankenreiter and Nahko and Medicine for the People, a West Coast-based band that’s headed to Hawaii for eight dates on Oahu, Kauai and Hawaii between Nov. 7 and Nov. 23.
Rudd himself will play three shows in the islands, including Hallowbaloo and performances scheduled for Nov. 1 at the Kauai Community College Performing Arts Centre in Lihue and Nov. 2 at Maui’s Iao Theater in Wailuku.
His music is inextricably bound up with indigenous Australia, both by sound and subject matter. He’s a multi-instrumentalist who will perform in Hawaii as a one-man band, performing surrounded by instruments including guitars, didgeridoo, harmonica, stompbox and drums.
“The multiple instrument thing was never really planned,” Rudd said. “I never said, ‘I’m going to be the guy who plays multiple instruments.’ It’s just that I have a strong connection with instruments that are handmade, that sort of come to me rather than me buying them, on my journey. … And I’ve connected instruments to the mood of a song, and want to make sure that they’re there, when I’m in a situation where I want to be able to play them.
Rudd’s voice is warm and earnest, with a touch of raw passion. And his songs implore you to be aware of your surroundings — that would be the environment and the people who share your stretch of the planet. It’s all pretty clear in “Follow the Sun,” one of Rudd’s most recent recorded songs, when he sings, “Breathe, breathe in the air. Set your intentions. Dream with care.”
“People forget. They forget that they are of this earth, not just on this earth,” he said.
I used to think that gentle, upbeat artists such as Johnson and Rudd were somebody else’s cup of tea. But Johnson’s success — not within the music “industry,” but in inspiring loads of people to get on board with conservation and environmental education, and in forging musical bonds with other great talents, from Paula Fuga to Eddie Vedder — has turned me around. If you feel like I used to, take a look at what artists like Rudd and Johnson have accomplished, and see if your views don’t alter, too.
“Connecting with an audience is a natural flow,” Rudd said. “The people who come to my shows are always good, conscious folk.”
SOUNDING A LITTLE sleepy when I reached him by phone in Australia, leading to an attractive slur on his warm Australian accent, Rudd was softspoken at first, but warmed up as he talked about musical travels with Frankenreiter, a friend, and the “spirit” he plans to bring with him to Hawaii.
“It’s gonna be — in Hawaii it’ll be groovy,” he said. “You know, grooves and backbone. With what I do, there’s a lot of spirit that travels with me in my instruments, from my homeland, and it will be nice to bring that to Hawaii.
“I’m going to play the didgeridoo — it’s a very powerful instrument,” he said, “and whenever you go to a powerful place spiritually with that instrument, there’s always interesting energy created.
“I’m excited just to bring the spirit of what I do to Hawaii more than anything, and to see how it translates.
“But yeah, you know, it’ll be groovy. There’ll be lots of dancing, I’m sure. It’ll be fun!”
Rudd has been working on his “percussion rig,” he said, and feels that recently he’s taken it to another level.
He’ll be in Hawaii for more than a week, and says he’s looking forward to being in the islands long enough to do some exploring.
“I think I’m going to spend my time off in Kauai,” he said. “Donavon Frankenreiter lives in Kauai, and he was telling me all about it. I’m pretty keen to have a look at that place!
“Donavon I’ve known for years, since the Jack Johnson days, and we have done various things together over the years; I did some shows with him in Germany the year before lasts. So he wanted to come out to Australia — and I saw Medicine for the People in Australia this year, and I thought they were brilliant — we just decided to join it all together and make it one big happy bill.”
I’m sure Hawaii will show him plenty of aloha.
Elizabeth Kieszkowski is editor of TGIF, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s weekly arts and entertainment section. Reach her via email at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter.