a woman holding a ukelele with a man sit side by side smiling at the camera

Sydney Con announces 2024 Indigenous Artists-in-Residence

5 March 2024
Nancy Bates and Tim Gray to mentor students
The Sydney Conservatorium of Music welcomes Nancy Bates and Tim Gray as the 2024 Indigenous Artists-in-Residence. They follow a successful residency by artists Nardi Simpson and Troy Russell.

Nancy Bates is a Barkindji/Wilyakali songwoman who has shared the stage with Archie Roach and writes songs with incarcerated women. Gumbayngirr/Wiradjuri/Bidjigal man Tim Gray is a singer/songwriter and member of the Reggae fusion group Green Hand Band. 

a woman with a ukelele and a man sitting side by side and smiling and laughing at each other

Nancy Bates and Tim Gray at Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Photo: Stefanie Zingsheim

Over the year ahead, Nancy and Tim will mentor First Nations students and collaborate with Sydney Conservatorium of Music students and staff in the creation of original music. Now in its second iteration, the SCM Indigenous Artists-in-Residence project seeks to improve visibility and awareness of Indigenous knowledge, methodologies and perspectives through supporting creative opportunities for Indigenous artists.

Songs Inside

Nancy Bates plans to share her Songs Inside project with the students where she works with Indigenous women in prisons, helping them find their voices and tell their stories by learning how to write songs, sing, and play the ukulele.

Songs Inside is a documentary project that followed Nancy as she taught music-making to the women in Adelaide Women’s Prison, leading to a performance with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra playing to 200 inmates and guests in September 2023. It was the first large-scale concert to be held inside Australian prison walls.

“I want to share this beautiful project with the Sydney Con and the students so they learn about music that has been written in an oppressed space, or under oppressive conditions,” Nancy says. “This is contemporary music. It reflects women and their experiences in prison. It also reflects women's ability to turn perhaps the violence and abuse that we may have experienced into love and compassion for each other, and for ourselves.”

Nancy hopes to work with Conservatorium students to help orchestrate and perform these prison songs to elevate their expressive power and show students how they can use their skills for positive social impact. “Prison isn’t the nicest place to write music in,” Nancy said. “But when that song comes, there is no prison, there are no walls, there is no barbed wire, there is only freedom.

“If I can inspire musicians here at the Con to take their music into a prison system and to run a program – my work is done.”

Music for healing

photo of Tim Gray, an indigenous man in a black tshirt smiling

Tim Gray at Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Photo: Stefanie Zingsheim.

Tim Gray is the lead singer/songwriter with the reggae band Green Hand Band, and is strongly influenced by Bob Marley and upbeat political song writing. For Tim, music is about healing.

“I started learning classical piano when I was a kid living with a foster family, but when my foster mum died, I ran away and the music stopped for me,” Tim says. “I wanted to find my Aboriginal family and I did, in Redfern and in Woolloomooloo. But I was homeless for a while and started drinking at 15. I spent 15 years in drug and alcohol addiction before going into rehab. I found music again in rehab and got sober.”

Tim wrote his first Blues song in rehab called “Namatjira Haven”, before enrolling in TAFE NSW Eora to study Music Performance and later Music Business. He now fronts Redfern-based Green Hand Band, an Indigenous band using music to raise awareness of issues such as recovering from addiction, spiritual empowerment, love and social justice.

“I use music for healing and for conveying a message, just like my favourite artist Bob Marley,” Tim says, with a smile.

Water is Life by Green Hand Band

Indigenous creatures

Tim says he wants to work with the Con students on songs around Aboriginal mythology, particularly scary creatures. “I want to explore the supernatural aspects of my culture, through music,” he says. “Hopefully, they don't get too scared when I tell them what we're going to be writing songs about – creatures - some black fellas don't like talking about our creatures because it’s spooky.”

“I think we've forgotten about this part of our culture, a little bit,” he said. “I want to bring it back! But in a respectful way, because they're a big part of our culture. A lot of our dreaming stories are about these things. When I told Nancy what I was doing, she said “ooooh”, but then she was happy that I was doing it. Because she realised she was part of that culture, too.”

About Nancy Bates

Nancy Bates is a Barkindji song woman from far west NSW, near Broken Hill. She is an accomplished singer-songwriter, guitarist and teacher. She worked under the wing of Archie Roach for three years as a backing vocalist and guitarist, touring nationally and internationally as a band member and support act. Nancy is dedicated to her Songs Inside project and running Deadly Management, a music promotion, education and advocacy company for emerging First Nations artists.

About Tim Gray

Tim Gray is a Gumbayngirr/Wiradjuri/Bidjigal man born in Macksville on the mid-north coast of NSW. Tim is an accomplished singer/songwriter and has released two CDs with his seven-piece reggae fusion band Green Hand Band. Tim is also a composer of classical music and is on the Board of Tribal Warrior Corporation. Tim first joined Tribal Warrior in 2006 and became a qualified deckhand. He also has his own show on Koori Radio called Social Change. Tim is on The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Panel of City of Sydney. Tim currently works at Barangaroo as an Aboriginal cultural guide.

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