Composer and performer Jessie Lloyd describes herself as a song-keeper of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music, looking for songs and pieces of traditional music and preserving them in culturally responsible ways.

Lloyd is the daughter of Joe Geia, a pioneer of Aboriginal protest songs and composer responsible for the anthem Yil Lull.

Her family history of using music as a vehicle for cultural expression is one she’s continued through her own career.

Llyod’s second album Ailan (island) Songs Project – Four Winds explores the folk tunes of her people in the Torres Strait with a contemporary reimagining.

Uniquely, most of these songs explore a relatively recent past, the largely unknown history of industry, military, maritime, railway and missionary activity as well as children’s songs in a period of consistent migration and movement in the region.

“These songs prove that there’s no real borders,” Ms Lloyd said.

“There’s no separation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait, or Papua New Guinea, or even the Pacific.

“They’ve been so interconnected, and they still are.

“I think sometimes we forget that, we see it as separate entities when when through the songs you can see that those borders are a very new.”

Jessie Lloyd with songwomen in the Torres Strait Islands.
image provided.

The 12 tracks are attributed to their original composers with the contribution of additional lyrics, or in the concert with the tradition of folk songs around the world their origins are unknown, survived purely by a passing through generations and continued resonance.

Ailan Songs follows her 2017 work Mission Songs Project which took a similar look back at post-colonial First Nations history.

“There’s a lot of social and cultural responsibilities around the songs that I work with,” Ms Lloyd said.

The process involves lengthy consolation and collaboration with custodians and senior Torres Strait song women.

“The elders and communities and families have entrusted me with these songs,” Ms Lloyd said.

“They’re mentors, they’re advisors.

“A lot of these songs are in language and there are multiple languages up that way and dialects and variations.

“I’ve had language lessons to make sure that I get the right pronunciation, translation and acknowledge the right families.”

Ms Lloyd said looking into the songs could provide clues into the history of the continent, ways of life and the music produced down the line.

“A lot of the songs that we consider as well known Australian songs now actually have roots in the Torres Strait and beyond,” she said.

“You can trace the journey of those songs.

“That’s the purpose of the project.”

Ms Lloyd released her Ailan Songs Project – Four Winds on Tuesday May 24.

The album has its live launch at Melbourne’s Federation Square as part of the 30th Anniversary Mabo Day celebrations next Friday.