A story published in the January 2011 issue of Rolling Stone, about the musical collaboration project The Key Of Sea. Click the below image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.
The Cat Empire’s Asylum Campaign
Harry Angus wears a broad smile. “This has been a total headfuck so far,” The Cat Empire’s co-vocalist and trumpet player says. He and his bandmates are nearing the end of a session at Melbourne’s Sing Sing Studios. It wouldn’t be a particularly out-of-the-ordinary occurrence, if not for the man with whom they’re recording: an Ethiopian singer named Anbessa Gebrehiwot, who also plays the krar, a lyre-like stringed instrument. The song they’ve spent the last two days rehearsing and recording, “Zero”, was arranged by Gebrehiwot.
The song’s traditional Ethiopian cadence has proven difficult for The Cat Empire to get their Western minds around. “It’s something really new for us rhythmically,” says lead vocalist and percussionist Felix Riebel. “I feel for Ryan (bass) and Olly (keys) especially, because the phrases are hard and intricate, and don’t make sense in terms of what we’re used to.”
Written five years ago as “a love song, not a political song”, “Zero” took on another meaning for Anbessa upon seeking asylum in Australia three years ago, reflecting the conditios in which asylum seekers live in Australia: no right to work, no Medicare, no income. “Life is zero when you separate with friends and family,” Anbessa says.
The song is one of eleven that will form a project dubbed The Key Of Sea; Sarah Blasko, The Vasco Era, Tim Rogers and others also appear on the album, released in November. “We were excited to be a part of this project, because in terms of the issue we’re trying to promote, it’s now or never,” says Angus. “We’re showing people the human face and sound of asylum seekers.”
The Key Of Sea was founded by human rights advocate Hugh Crosthwaite and Australian Independent Record Labels Association’s General Manager, Nick O’Byrne. “There’s been a lot of negative press and public sentiment around the issue of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants,” says Crosthwaite. “We wanted to do something that would resonate with the man on the street, and we thought that the easiest way to do that would be through rad tunes.”