Koori Woman Blues
Despite a stellar career as a saxophone player and blues musician with hits like Pension Day Blues and Pemulwuy, Marlene is only now preparing to release her full debut album, Koori Woman Blues.“This music comes from so deep in Marlene’s heart that it’s been really traumatic for her to let it out and let it go. When you listen to this album you’re looking right into the core of who Marlene Cummins is – and that takes enormous courage and honesty. She is completely vulnerable.”
says her producer, Richard Field.
The album presents a biographical journey comprised of a mixture of original and traditional blues numbers. The album’s centrepiece is the stirring epic blues anthem, Koori Woman.
Marlene dedicates this song to Aboriginal women everywhere as they were, in her words, ‘the backbone of the struggle’.
The album features a sterling cast of some of the world’s finest blues musicians including Gil Askey on trumpet, Fiona Boyes, Buddy Knox, Ray Beadle, Jerome Smith on guitar, Mark Atkins on didgeridoo, Joel Davis, Murray Cook on keys, Stefan Sernak (accordion), Andy Baylor (mandolin), Shannon Barnett on trombone, Paul Williamson on baritone sax and Marlene herself on alto sax.
- PENSION DAY BLUES
I was in a relationship with my son’s father. He’d just got back from Vietnam and he was a bit lost. I was a bit lost. I was on the supporting mother’s pension and he used to just come and see me pension day. I remember yelling at him, “I’m sick of you just coming around pension day. You only love me pension day”. He was a smooth talking blackfella. He was so much of a charmer he used to always have women buying him drinks. He knew how to play them and he used to play me pension day.
That’s a song based on the spiritual law of the universe. Call it the power of God. If you don’t believe in God, whack an ‘o’ in it and call it the power of good. There is a dynamic force that I found through my own experiences in life. I do my part to fight injustice and I know that for those people who don’t do their part, they have their soul to pay on this Earth and after. It’s the spiritual law of the boomerang – you give a good toss, you get a good catch. So what you give out is what you get back.
- BAREFOOT BOY
I loved this song by Noelene Batley when I was a young child. I thought the lyrics were great from an Aboriginal love song point of view and at the same time, recognize a great Australian song.
- PRELUDE TO KOORI WOMAN
Grandmother, mother, daughter (in language). I wanted to set this song up as a tribute to the Aboriginal women of this country sung in Kuku-yalandji language. My niece Tahlia Cummins assisted me with the language.
- KOORI WOMAN
Inspired by Koko Taylor, one of my favourite blues singers, this song is a tribute to Aboriginal women nationwide, who I believe are the backbone of the struggle. In this song I pay tribute to Truganinni, ‘Mum’ Shirl, Oodgeroo Nunuccal (Kath Walker), my mother Ruth Cummins and Kate McCarthy. They represent Aboriginal women everywhere.
- WHEN WILL WE BE PAID
This is a cover originally recorded by Mavis Staples, whom I admire as a musician because her music is also about social injustice. I’m not in the music business for commercial success. My music is about social injustice and finding that connection with Mavis Staples in regards to being a political activist through my music. She sang about stolen wages for African Americans. I just made it relate to us.
Sugar is a real life Aboriginal woman I met in Redfern where I live. I wanted to tell her story in a song. Sugar is a beautiful, dynamic Aboriginal personality that I grew to love in all the years I’ve been living in Redfern. She just loved to dance and she had a hard life. She’s still raising her grandchildren today and her favourite outlet is to go out in a deadly dress and dance on the floor. She dances by herself and she doesn’t care what anybody thinks about her.
- BOOMERANG ALLEY
Boomerang Alley is where I grew up in a fringe camp in the town of Winton, home of Qantas, Banjo Paterson and Waltzing Matilda. If you listen to the lyrics carefully, it will tell you a lot about the little outback town of Winton, about its characters, both on the fringe camp and in the town, including the old picture show with no roof that’s still there today with the same owner and his son who is running the reel-to-reel old classic movies.
- YOU CAN’T WIN
This song written by bass guitarist Jerome Smith, who plays on the album is inspired by me. I included it because of my own struggle with gambling addiction. I choose to be candid about my addiction issues in the hope of planting the seed in others to get help.
- SASSY (MURRI) MAMA
This is originally a blues song by big Mama Thornton called Sassy Mama. Because she’s also a favourite blues singer of mine, I wanted to do one of her songs and I changed the treatment to a Zeidico dance track style, a fun dance song for all the beautiful, sexy and sassy Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to feel good about themselves. It’s a happy song.
- FEELS LIKE RAIN (feat. Marlene Cummins on alto sax)
I like the song by Buddy Guy and it was suggested to me by my producer, Richard Fields to perform it instrumentally with saxophone.
- THE BLUES IT KNOWS YOUR NAME
This is written by my long-time music associate and friend, Murray Cook. Murray wrote it for me and I loved it. Murray and I have been working together for 20 years.
- INSUFFICIENT FUNDS
This is a fun song. I occasionally like to inject Aboriginal-style humour and way of life into my songwriting. For Insufficient Funds as a total metaphor for black people in this country’s poverty stricken life, also being typically backed by turning hard times into humour. I later found out that it’s a famous line from one of my hero’s Martin Luther King’s speeches in which he talks about how America has given the negro a bad check marked ‘Insufficient funds’. That didn’t surprise me. I always felt connected to him. He played a major part in my healing in his writings when I was in rehab. I must have unconsciously used it as a title for one my songs.
- SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL (FEAT. JEROME SMITH)
I’m a big fan of Buddy Guy and as well as ‘Feels Like Rain’ I chose to do Some Kind of Wonderful. I thought it would sound good as a duet so I decided to do it with my bass player, Jerome Smith, who has that amazing blues belting style that I wanted for my version of this song. It is enhanced by the beautiful backup vocals of Paula Michelle, both from the home of the Blues, the USA
- SANTA BRING ME A MAN FOR CHRISTMAS
The song was inspired by a true event in Townsville. I came out of rehab and was Christmas shopping. I saw an Aboriginal woman walking through the mall a bit sparked up, approach a white man promoting a store in a Santa suit. She started singing out to him, ‘Santa Bring me a Man for Christmas’. The poor fellow was embarrassed but I loved it. That memory stayed with me for many years until one day I put it down in this Blues Christmas song.