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Victorian Seniors Festival - Spotlight on Cultural Riches

The Cultural Riches stream of the 2021 Victorian Seniors Festival Reimagined is full of surprises.


The Cultural Riches stream of the Victorian Seniors Festival reimagined is full of surprises. For instance, who knew the Indian film industry, affectionately known as Bollywood, has had a strong influence on the music scene in Greece?

The festival has brought together artists from different backgrounds to work together, with rich cross-cultural collaborations including Indian sitar player and singer Sarita McHarg performing with Greek poet and bouzouki player Jacob Papadopoulos.

In between their musical performances, Sarita and Jacob discuss the strong connection their countries share through music, with many Greek musicians inspired to develop their own arrangements of Bollywood music after watching the Indian movies that became popular there from the late 1950s and 60s.

Creative Director for the Cultural Riches stream, Multicultural Arts Victoria’s Oscar Jimenez says, ‘I had no idea Bollywood had such a big impact on Greek culture.’

Oscar says one of the joys of being involved in this year’s festival has been discovering how much common ground is shared by cultures that, on the surface, seem quite different and he credits the festival’s decision to provide the artists with a lot of freedom in developing their contribution for allowing gems, like the Bollywood connection, to surface.

‘It was about giving them a voice and letting them lead the conversation,’ Oscar says.

Cultural Riches provides visitors with the opportunity to not only enjoy performances by culturally diverse artists but hear the stories behind the music and the performers, such as how jazz was the magnet that first drew Colombian singer/songwriter Iaki Vallejo to Melbourne-based drummer/percussionist David Jones and bassist Evripidies Evripidou. The trio first performed together at the Victorian Seniors Festival eight years ago and Iaki leapt at the chance to reconnect this year.

‘All the collaborations were artist led,’ Oscar says. ‘I asked Iaki who she would like to work with, and she was keen to re-establish an old connection.’

In between sets of emotionally charged jazz, including a homage to Iaki’s mother, the trio allow listeners to bask in the warmth of their conversation on the importance of music.

Other performers spoke of how much they enjoyed the experience of being part of the festival, including Chinese musician Wang Zheng Ting, who collaborated with Indian instrumentalist Vinod Prasanna. Both men are masters of traditional instruments, Ting plays the Sheng, a Chinese mouth organ, and Vinod the Bansuri, an Indian flute.

‘Performing with a good musician is always a great pleasure. Through the phrases I can understand what he’s thinking. I connect with him. Good musicians don’t need to talk a lot,’ Ting says.

Vinod concurs: ‘I feel very lucky to have in Melbourne so many amazing and versatile musicians…. with music I can see their culture, music speaks their story, their feelings.’

Cultural Riches also includes a podcast series, Women, Art and Activism, where migrants tell their stories of life before and after their move to Australia. The fascinating participants include Julie Pagonis, who became a union activist after witnessing first-hand the exploitation of migrant women workers, and Wemi Oyekanmi, who came to Australia from Nigeria with small children in tow. Despite her extensive teaching experience and post graduate qualifications, Wemi was unable to secure work as a teacher and now supports African women from countries that practise female circumcision.

‘For me, the festival has reinforced how rich in culture our community is and how much we can learn from these people,’ Oscar says. ‘As migrants who identify as Australian, but also have a different cultural background and knowledge, they have so much to share.’

Reviewed 19 May 2023