Magpie Blues | Ursula Yovich
Photo - Peter Collie
I first heard Ursula Yovich sing in the mid 90s, when I came across a CD compilation featuring Indigenous singers. Her track stood out for me because of the magical quality of her voice. I think the song, written and sung by Yovich, was called First Love. Now, over a decade later, this woman has developed into a stunning performer with a voice that stirs the deepest depths of ones soul.
Her cabaret performance Magpie Blues, which she wrote and developed in collaboration with Stewart O'Connell and Francesca Smith, with music by Peter Casey and Jonathan Pease and directed by the inimitable Wesley Enoch, interweaves song and story-telling to great effect.
Ursula Yovich is black and white (just like her totem, the magpie). Her father is Serbian and her mother Aboriginal from Maningrida (in northwest Arnhem land). And her voice is as melodic: big and full of blues and soul, her's is a voice that cannot fail to touch the deepest parts of any listener's being.
From the moment she takes to the stage belting out her version of Natalie Cole's This Will Be (An Everlasting Love) Yovich has the audience firmly in her grasp. There is wonderful energy, soulfulness and humour in her performance, as well as variety. The songs she performs highlight some of the major experiences that have brought her to this time and place. The haunting Fields of Gold (Sting) makes her think of the love that first drew her parents to each other, whilst The Serbian Lullaby written by Yovich speaks of her love for her father, who brought her and her three siblings after her mother left the family when Yovich, the eldest, was only eight . There is a wonderful medley of songs from her formative years, when she dreamed of being a rock star which reveal some of her influences – soul, pop, blues. There's the sadness of her mother's leaving expressed in one of Yovich's favourite songs, Just Like a Child (written with Rob Woolfe), whilst other songs express her strength and optimism and a genuine embracing of the many different cultural influences that have made her what she is.
Yovich's band are a strong and supportive presence with Beau Golden on keyboards, Hamish Stuart on drums, James Haselwood on bass, and Jonathan Pease on guitar.
There are songs you'll know – songs by the Rolling Stones, Boney M and Queen - and songs that may be new to you (many written by Yovich) that you will want to hear again. Songs in Brada (her mother's language), in Serbian, in Italian, each of which, as Yovich says, speak to you even if you don't know the language. Songs that speak of love and loss, hope and joy, of the richness that is music, with its special quality of being able to speak across time and culture and move the soul.
Yovich has two more performances as part of this year's Melbourne International Festival and if you love blues/soul music sung by a woman with a big, beautiful voice who draws her inspiration from the likes of Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone and Eva Cassidy, with a story to tell that really matters to Australians, whatever their cultural connections, then you won't want to miss Ursula Yovich's Magpie Blues.
2010 Melbourne International Arts Festival
Venue: the Forum Theatre
Dates: Mon 11 – Wed 13 Oct at 8.30pm
Duration: 1hr 20min no interval
Tickets: Full $30 / Groups (8+) $27 / Concession $22.50
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 723 038 | www.melbournefestival.com.au