by CHRIS GILMORE

The Sunshine Coast’s premier arts and cultural celebration Horizon Festival returns from August 27 to September 5, bringing together local and national artists to offer vibrant, immersive and entertaining experiences for all ages.

Among the 10 days and nights of music, visual art, theatre, dance, film, spoken word, comedy and more is Songs of Gaia, a cross-cultural music performance that reflects on diversity and the importance of our planet.

Songs of Gaia director and musician Linsey Pollak says it will be the world premiere performance from Ensemble Beyond Borders, which features eight musicians from different cultural backgrounds.

“The idea is that the group is working together to create new music that reflects the diversity of everyone’s cultures,” he says.

The musicians are Airileke Ingram, Bukhchuluun Ganburged, Lizzie O’Keefe, Lyndon Davis, Nadia Sunde, Tenzin Choegyal, Tunji Beier and Linsey himself. They cover cultural backgrounds including Mongolian, Indonesian, Papua New Guinean, Croatian, Indian and more.

“You’ve got local Kabi Kabi elder Lyndon Davis, who’s the didge player with the group, so he represents the local Indigenous people from this area,” Linsey says.

“Then you’ve got Tenzin, who’s quite a renowned Tibetan musician. He came here as a refugee many years ago but here’s been here now for a number of decades. He’s well known around the world, he’s done collaborations with a whole range of people globally and he’s also really experienced with this kind of cross-cultural collaboration. 

“And then you’ve got myself, who’s another example of various mongrel Australians who have really mixed heritage – my father was Austrian, my mum comes from a Norwegian background. But I fell in love at an early age with Macedonian music and went and lived in Macedonia to study the traditional music there.

“All the musicians are really at the very top of their game.”

Linsey says Songs of Gaia will feature pieces specially developed for the ensemble.

“Rather than bring existing pieces into the group, what we’re doing is, as a group, we experiment, we jam, we improvise, and pieces develop out of that,” he says. “Then we work on those pieces to give them form and shape. 

“It’s like each piece is really a combination of the people in it. It’s sometimes duos, sometimes trios, sometimes quartets, sometimes all eight of us, so it will be like a 70-minute journey that really just explores the music that we’ve developed.”

It won’t just be the music that takes the breath away – Songs of Gaia will be performed at Bankfoot House in the Glass House Mountains at sunset. 

“Songs of Gaia is taking on Horizon Festival’s theme of place, and the importance of place, so it’s celebrating the Glass House Mountains,” Linsey says. “The audience will be looking out to Mount Tibrogargan as the sun is setting, so it starts on dusk and goes into night. 

“It’s a celebration of the planet and the connectedness of everything and the importance of diversity, so the music reflects that importance of cultural diversity.

“What we’re trying to say with Songs of Gaia is all about the fact that we’re all connected in some way. Basically Gaia, or the Gaia concept, is the idea that the planet is one complete system – which sometimes people call ‘nature’ or ‘Mother Earth’ – but basically it’s one system that we’re all part of.”

Linsey, who’s also a renowned instrument maker, was recently recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List with a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his services to music.

“One of the things I’m very passionate about is the importance of music to us, and particularly community music … As well as performing I’ve done lots and lots of projects over the years all over Australia that get community groups playing music,” he says. “I guess the OAM was a response to that, the work in the community with music as well as the work that I’ve done setting up the multicultural music centre over in Western Australia and all the other various performances, both nationally and internationally.”

A resident of the Coast for 30 years, the past nine of them in Maleny, Linsey has performed at Horizon Festival several times previously and says the event is a credit to the region.

“It’s a great festival and we’re very lucky to have it run on the Sunshine Coast,” he says. “I particularly love the way it links place, environment and the arts, and that it’s across different art forms … I think it’s really well curated and a fantastic boon to the region.”

Horizon Festival artistic director Dr Lynne Bradley says this year’s festival will shine a spotlight on the extraordinary talents of Sunshine Coast and Queensland artists.

“The line-up offers local audiences and visitors to the Coast the chance to experience a high-quality and accessible artistic program, set against the spectacular backdrop of the region,” Dr Bradley says.

“The natural environment and issues such as climate change feature throughout the program, with many projects inspired by, and set within, this region’s very special landscape.”

This year, the Wonderland Spiegeltent will make its debut on the Coast and take centre stage as the festival’s hub at Cotton Tree Park. Built in the 1920s, it is an opulent travelling pavilion that will host cabaret, comedy, circus, dance and theatre.

Songs of Gaia is on Saturday, August 28, from 5.30pm. For the full Horizon Festival program and to book tickets visit horizonfestival.com.au.