September 4, 2019 South Sudan NEWS PORTAL
(MELBOURNE) – Blind pop star Gordon Koang was a household name in South Sudan. Fleeing civil war with his cousin and bandmate, he found his voice again in Melbourne.
He has released 10 albums and has YouTube video views in the hundreds of thousands. Before fleeing that country’s civil war to seek asylum in Australia with his bandmate and cousin Paul Biel, the pair toured the world and played to thousands.
“We saw that we needed to do the music in a safe place where there’s no war,” Koang told Guardian Australia. “We said, ‘Let us stay here in Australia and the music will be good’. If we go to South Sudan, the music cannot grow because the people are killing themselves.”
“All my songs [are] talking about love, unity and peace,” says Koang, who will soon play Bigsound and Meredith music festival.
“One song says ‘Communities all around the world take this advice. From today it’s very important to love one another.’ There’s a lot of change, and when there’s no peace in this generation, you need to be a mediator between communities.”
Koang began learning the thom when he was eight years old and built his first one by hand, repurposing a car’s brake cables for strings. He carried his third thom (the one causing him trouble) through civil war and across borders all the way to Australia in 2014 – a journey yet to be completed by his and Biel’s wives and 12 children who remain stranded in a Ugandan refugee camp.
Bedroom Suck Records and MiE founder Joe Alexander met Koang and Biel (who plays the bul drum) through Multicultural Arts Victoria after seeking help to release a compilation of music created by refugees and asylum seekers. But the project’s mission soon expanded to help connect migrant musicians with Australia’s independent music network of bookers, players, technicians, designers, craftspeople and consumers.
“I wanted to encourage a sense of community, a feeling of welcome and of sharing. I feel like some aspects of Australian society at the moment are quite xenophobic and closed. I really wanted to try and open up that conversation a bit,” says Alexander.
At a live performance on Melbourne’s 3RRR radio last week, Koang quickly wooed the crowd.
Rows of scars from a coming-of-age ceremony crowned his forehead above his trademark wraparound sunglasses and beaming smile.
Joined by a band of Melbourne musicians and Biel, he introduced his new thom as though it was a fully-fledged band member. Crafted from native blackwood, eucalyptus and western red cedar by local luthier William Hancock, it’s a new instrument for a new life. A few days before the show, after years of waiting, Koang received his permanent protection visa (Biel has since received his too), meaning their families can soon join them in Australia.
“There’s a lot of change here [but] now it’s home. We have had four years without war and stress. We have a band here, we have people who talk to us all the time, when you talk with people it’s counselling,” says Biel. “We feel very proud in Australia. Our music doesn’t belong to Africa now, it belongs to Australia and then the world.”
Gordon Koang tours Australia in September. His new 12” single Stand Up / Asylum Seeker is out now on Music in Exile.
As reported by Guardian Australia.