Iconic Australian hit ‘The Dead Heart’ gets the reggae-dub treatment with Emma Donovan’s vocals, in aid of raising awareness and funds for Indigenous literacy across the country.
The single launches Sydney musician and producer Declan Kelly’s project Diesel n’Dub: a re-recording of Midnight Oil songs in dub-reggae style, produced in Australia and taken to London to be mixed by dub legend Mad Professor (Neil Fraser) at his Ariwa Studios.
Kelly and Mad Professor decided that Donovan’s rendition of the classic song, first released by Midnight Oil on their Diesel and Dust album in 1986, was the standout choice with which to launch the project.
To launch the project there will be a music video broadcast in the coming week showcasing Emma Donovan and Kelly in performance, and featuring two visual works by distinguished artist Adam Hill and a selection of archival images from the Australian National Library.
Diesel n’Dub is being released by newly formed roots/urban/world music label Diaspora Music, in partnership with MGM Distribution.
“The Dead Heart stood out as the track to herald in the Diesel n’ Dub album (due for release early 2014). One of Australia’s great Indigenous singers, Emma Donovan just owns the song and gives it her own power and authenticity,” said Kelly.
“Her voice just gets me and moves me. When she sings, ‘we carry in our hearts the true country, that cannot be broken…’ it really drives home the reality of these lyrics. It is such a powerful tune.”
The project was set up by Kelly to raise awareness of Indigenous literacy issues and in the process raise funds for the crucial work of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. A fixed percentage of profits generated from sales of the single and album will be donated directly to the cause for the next five years.
Kelly says that he was motivated by the strong parallels between reggae music’s social conscience foundations and the outspoken political activism in Midnight Oil’s songwriting.
“It seemed like a perfect match to fuse the tunes of Midnight Oil in a reggae style. Reggae music has always been a platform for rebel music, and Midnight Oil has always been a band that addresses world issues in a powerful musical way. I am always humbled by their willingness to take a stand and voice out what needs to be said. To invite prominent Indigenous singers to sing the parts once sung by Peter Garrett seemed very fitting.”
Donovan, who has included a verse of the song in her traditional Gumbayngirr language says, “It’s a good time for these songs to be heard again.”
On the full album, which has been over two years in production, Donovan is joined by other Indigenous guest vocalists each taking on an Oil’s classic: Radical Son (David Leha) on the track ‘Short Memory,’ Frank Yamma on ‘Beds are Burning,’ Stiff Gins on ‘King of the Mountain.’
Other popular singers are also involved: Katie Noonan on ‘Power and the Passion,’ Alex Lloyd on ‘Armistice Day,’ Pat Powell (Melbourne Ska Orchestra) on ‘Read About It’ and ‘Beds are Burning,’ Tony Hughes (King Tide) on ‘King of the Mountain,’ Tina Harrod on ‘Put Down That Weapon’ and Kelly himself on a haunting version of ‘Truganini. ’
Commenting on his musical pilgrimage to the Ariwa Studios, Kelly stated, “Mad Professor was and still is an innovator of audio technology and in creating dub music, so working with him was an honour – and a real trip to spend time with him creating and dubbing the Diesel n’Dub album. I am such a fan of Jamaican music – reggae, rocksteady, ska, dub. For such a small little island in the Caribbean, it has such a large presence musically worldwide, so hanging with Mad Professor was like sitting in with a musical historian!”
Kelly (pictured above) helms the band on drums and vocals, joined by Winston Stephenson (bass/vocals), Robbie Woolf (keys/vocals) and Ross Fotheringham (guitar).
‘The Dead Heart’ single also features Ronald Jermott (percussion) and Yanya Boston (backing vocals). Most of the recordings were done by engineer Richard Belkiner at Free Energy Device Studios in Sydney.
Musician/producer Kelly plays regularly across Australia and abroad, at the world’s biggest roots and world music festivals as a solo artist, with his trio The Rising Sun, or as a special guest. He has also toured and recorded with international artists such as Passenger (UK), Spearhead (US), Stranger Cole (Jamaica), and Eugene Hideaway Bridges (Texas, US). Locally, he has collaborated with artists Alex Lloyd, Katie Noonan, Karise Eden, OKA and KingTide and most recently had two tracks from his album Adrift featured in the BBC series Top of the Lake, directed by Jane Campion.