I guess it shouldn't come as to much of a surprise the number of similarities between North America, more specifically Canada, and Australia. While the United States was British founded originally, the mother country has had much more of an impact on the other two countries.
Of course British rule of law dominated both countries and they applied the same practices in both countries to the indigenous peoples they found. Once they were properly cowed with military might, the practice of forced assimilation became the accepted wisdom. Stealing children and cramming them into schools where they were forced to unlearn their heathen savagery was one step.
Taking away their land and putting them on reservations was the final piece of the equation. Not only did it remove their ability to be self-sufficient, but by removing their connection to the land they cut them off from their source of spiritual strength. Without either of those they became a hollow shell of their former selves. Destined for a life of dependency they turned to the solace that was given freely by their new maters –alcohol.
If you're wondering what this all has to do with Xavier Rudd and his newest release White Moth the answer lies in the content of the album, the issues that concern Mr. Rudd, and the internal journey that he appears to be on. Xavier Rudd is an Australian, married to a Canadian and he divides his time between the two countries and his connections to the First people of both lands runs deep and true.
The most obvious connection is his use of the Yirdaki (didgeridoo) as an integral part of his music. While it's use has become more prominent among various folk groups and performers looking for something to sound "cool", to seamlessly incorporate it, as Mr. Rudd does, into the music so that it doesn't stick out like a sore thumb or a novelty item, takes a sensitivity to the instrument that borders on the spiritual.
It is always a delicate issue using an item of spiritual significance to another culture in what they might consider secular conditions. But anyone listening to Mr. Rudd play his didgeridoos with those concerns would quickly have them alleviated by the fact the focus stays on the instrument not his ability to play them. He is not feeding his ego with them; he is feeding his music by letting their spiritual strength infuse a song.
Canada and Australia are countries where it is still possible to experience the land unchanged from its state thousands of years ago. There might be fewer and fewer pockets remaining as "civilization" advances, but they are still there in all their pristine harshness and beauty. It's almost impossible to see these places and not understand the spiritual connection the First peoples had with their respective lands.
In his lyrics, and the emotion and passion that he puts into them when singing, it is obvious that Mr. Rudd not only understands that connection but also feels it himself. When he sings about the earth he doesn't pretend to have any special insights to offer, he just wants to say "hey did you see that – isn't it amazing?" and make sure none of us are missing out on just what a wonderful gift it is we have been given with this planet.
He's not one for hiding his meaning behind reams of obscure poetry, and he speaks directly from his heart no matter what the subject. When he wants us to know something he wants to make sure we get the message. His most direct song on the album, "Footprint" is a perfect example of that.
First it’s the hardest rocking song on the album with driving electric guitars and pounding drums and second the lyrics are direct and to the point: "There are leaders who lead/our leaders prefer to deceive/As our oceans they rise, they rise/still they choose to deny". Well you can't get more direct than that can you?
Just when you think the song is ending though, he catches us off guard. The guitars are screaming, the drums pounding and as they fade we hear the sound of a rain stick – which in turn becomes the sound of the Native heartbeat drum. What began in anger ends in prayer as Kennetch Charlette of the Cree nation in Canada sings a closing invocation to Gitchie Manitou – roughly translated as Great Spirit.
The prayer is short and sweet and does not seem to have any specific purpose beyond serving as a means of making sure the song is closed. It's as if Xaiver Rudd doesn't want the anger of the song to permeate the rest of the disc or to escape into the world. It's very easy to get trapped and wrapped up in anger at things and forget what's important, and by closing the song off with the prayer he lets us move on to the remainder of the disc without any hangover.
That in itself tells you all you need to know about Xaiver Rudd: he considers the implications of everything he does. It is said that some Native nations won't make important decisions without considering the implications for the next seven generations. It's that philosophy of considering the effects of your actions upon the world that runs throughout Mr. Rudd's songs.
It may not be anything overt, but behind all the lyrics and the music there's a mind that considers what it is saying and the effect that it will have on the person listening. He has something important to say, but what's even more important to him is how he says it. What's the point of talking about how sacred the land is if you can't express it with love in your heart?
What message are you delivering to people if you continually barrage them with anger and unhappiness? In the first song on the album "Better People" he says "…our children keep growing up with/what they know from what we teach/and what they see…" I've never heard any other popular singer whose lyrics and musical attitude reflects that concern as much as Xavier Rudd.
In White Moth Xavier Rudd draws upon the resources available to him from both the land of his birth and Canada to learn about the sacredness of the land. In his songs he talks not only about how important the planet is, but also how important it is that we act in a manner that we would like our children to emulate.
That's pretty heavy stuff for a pop musician, but he does it without preaching or without any of the holier than thou attitude that you get from to often these days. He sings from his heart without pretence about who he is and what he wants from life and is never sentimental or sappy. White Moth is a great CD by a very gifted individual who actually makes me feel hope for the future.
Thank You Xavier Rudd for this wonderful gift that you've offered us.
(Originally posted June 2007)
Richard Marcus is the author of two commissioned works published by Ulysses Press, editor in the books section of Blogcritics.org and contributor at Qantara.de. He has been writing since 2005 and his work has appeared in publications all over the world including the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.