Live Review and Gallery: Dark Mofo Festival, The Gathering, Denni and Tasman Keith, In The Hanging Garden, Hobart, 08.06.2023

Feature Photograph: Arun Kendall

The dynamic Dark Mofo Festival kicked off on Thursday with a night entitled ‘The Gathering’, a curated lineup of First Nations artists in a precinct-wide takeover of the MONA-owned venue In The Hanging Garden. It was, as expected and indeed hoped for, a cold dark night in the semi-open precinct but the two-way stream of warmth between the performers and the audience was radiant. The dedication of the opening of the Festival to First Nations performers was in a way an acknowledgement of things past, but it was a glorious way to kick off things with a Welcome to Country by the group Nita Education who say of their objectives to promote First Nations culture:

Tasmania/lutruwita/trowerna has a human history stretching back more than 50,000 years, spanning at least two ice ages and more than 2000 generations. Today’s palawa/pakana people continue to practice many cultural traditions.

It was a stunning dance and smoking ceremony.

An opening set by crooner First Nations Elder Uncle Dougie Mansell gave way to singer/rapper/raconteur Denni. I had seen Denni support the brilliant Christopher Coleman back in January 2022 on a sunny afternoon and was impressed back then, but now a year and half later on a bigger stage and under lights, she blossomed. Fierce, animated and powerful tracks gelled with the audience and it seemed her entire family and friends joined her on stage for a rousing finale.

Denni was followed by Tasman Keith: a hip hop/rapper/songwriter artist from NSW who has been receiving a lot of adulation as an artist at the forefront of Australia’s hip hop community. The powerful and transfixing performance tonight clearly underlined why.

Joined on stage by a still masked figure (sort of the antithesis to the famous Bez from Happy Mondays) and a dynamic live keyboards/deck player, Keith was an enigmatic and enthralling. His songs were anthemic and thunderous, moving into a more soul/pop genre for some. The audience – ranging in age from babies to not babies – became an ambulant wave of joy with his encouragement.

It was a very bright and vivacious performance and a fitting way to introduce the ensuing bacchanalia that is Dark Mofo. And despite this ebullience and celebration, it was also a fitting time to acknowledge the owners of the land and stirring to see the joy and resilience of the mob in the room. Always was, always will be.

Our coverage of this magnificent world class festival continues in the following weeks.

Feature Photograph: Arun Kendall

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