Reflections while on the road with Jeffrey ‘Yello’ Simon

— by Rebecca Renshaw

Caro Macdonald filming for the Smoking Ceremony song, Milikapiti. Photographer: Elizabeth Rogers

B2M concluded their first national tour around Australia in Darwin on Sunday 18 November 2018. B2M band member Jeffrey ‘Yello’ Simon reflected upon the development of the show ‘Mamanta’, their cultural journey and the opportunities the tour presented with Elizabeth Rogers, Performing Arts Manager.

“We are B2M (Bathurst to Melville) – a seven-piece Indigenous RnB band from the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory. We created a whole new show, ‘Mamanta’, to provide audiences with insight into Indigenous / Multicultural Australia with the diversity of Australian music. Bringing together a team of experts including Artback NT, Skinnyfish Music, James Mangohig, Gail Evans, Stephen Hawker, Caro Macdonald and Charlotte Kirby, we shifted our work from the typical ‘band’ gig into a show for theatres.

For us, one of the best outcomes from the development were the new skills, finding different ways of being able to express ourselves through music and theatre. We learned more about how lighting and AV help support the show and are eager to take these skills and mentor future artists.

For me [Jeffrey ‘Yello’ Simon] it was a huge task to look at the whole picture. It was great to have Daniel Cunningham with me to help with the music. Overall, though, I’ve never done this sort of stuff before, so having the full team around, Gail Evans, James Mangohig, Liz Rogers and Louise Partos was invaluable. Simplifying cultural aspects and education of the audience to fit comfortably within a 70-minute show, to put simply, gave me a lot of grey hairs. I thought about the show every day and night. It was going to expose our culture and the Islands and it had to be accurate. Even though we had a lot of meetings before the rehearsals began, it wasn’t until we [B2M] were actually together that we understood exactly what the meetings had been about.

This project has made us more versatile performers – it’s given us new ways of sharing our message, and also our culture.

There has been great social impact from this tour on us. We have been able to see the country and it’s enabled a lot of conversations with different people and audiences around Australia. This has been extremely important for us to see the country first-hand and to have our own understanding of this land and the people in it without relying on the often biased lens of the media.

Our Elders are also incredibly proud of our work. We invited them to see our progress during the development and they were impressed with the content, quality and accuracy and really urged us to go on – to share the work with the nation. The whole time through the tour, the Elders kept saying to the community to keep B2M on their minds,

Keep these boys in your thoughts because they’re currently travelling representing you and our tribes.

There have been ups and downs while on the tour [like] missing children’s birthday parties [or] the news of tragic deaths of family that have at times meant we [B2M] reduce the band while on the road to allow various members to attend funerals without cancelling any of our performances. Although this has been happening, there are far more positives that have come from this experience. Our families are incredibly proud. There’s never been a Tiwi Island band that has gone this far; and very few Indigenous NT bands get this chance to tour nationally to this extent, either.

This tour has been a huge honour and incredibly humbling.”