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Graduate captures global attention with sounds of water music


Jessica Nelson
21 March 2018

When Thomas Dick receives his PhD from Southern Cross University this Friday, he will be thinking of his friends from across the Pacific.

Tom has worked with the Vanuatu community for more than 10 years, experiencing the magic of the Vanuatu Women’s Water Music from the Leweton Village, and brokering deals for Vanuatu artists to sell and perform their music around the world.

“The women stand up in water as deep as their thighs, and they slap and splash and scoop and paddle, moving the water around with their hands while they sing, making an amazing rhythmic pattern and proper compositions in unison and in dialogue,” Tom said.

“Usually groups of 8 – 12 women take part, though all of the women in the village can do it. It’s part of being a woman in their village.

 “Part of my research involves telling a bit of that story, the history of the water music, and the way it has evolved over time, from playing games in the water to becoming a production all women in the village take part in.”

Tom is one of four Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) recipients who will receive their awards at Southern Cross University’s graduation ceremonies this Friday, just the second graduation event in the newest Gold Coast building.

Tom said it would be an honour to be awarded his PhD, though his academic passion is enabling members of the Vanuatu community to do their own research, promote their own ideas and create opportunities for income and touring.

“I remember falling in love with music and the arts. For me it’s more as a producer as I don’t actually play music myself. I am passionate about helping other people make their dreams come true and amplifying their stories and their music,” said Tom, who lived in Vanuatu for more than a decade.

“One of the guys from the village has been vising Australia to pursue music studies and continue exploring the different aspects of research into water and how people engage with it – bridging that divide between art and science.”

Capturing the sounds of the water music was a rewarding challenge for the producer and former record label board member, who facilitated the technical part of recording and brokered the deal through a local Vanuatu company.

The challenge proved worthwhile with the upcoming release the second edition of the ‘Vanuatu Women’s Water Music’ DVD, after a sellout first edition, with the musicians invited to tour Australia and perform at festival across the world including at Disneyland. The DVD trailer can be viewed here

“Because of the particular exciting nature of water music, people were especially interested in it. The performers have unique production challenges, such as needing a large body of water to perform in, but they are in high demand and are adored wherever they go,” he said.

Tom was also involved in organising the five-day music festival ‘Fest’Napuan’ for about 15 years in Vanuatu and has worked with some of the country’s biggest artists including Naio, XX Squad, Kalja Riddim Klan (KRK), Mars Melto, 26 Roots, Simply Strings, Tio, 1606, Shakura, Jipajiroa, among others.

Successful Australian artists Tom has worked with include Emily Wurramara, Blue King Brown and the Melbourne-based award-winning musician David Bridie, with whom he will travel to Vanuatu in May this year to record a new album in the Leweton Village, fostering the longstanding relationship.

Tom is also working on a project about the quality of water in the Byron Shire, teaming up with local award-winning artist Liz Barker, to make art prints of the water and recording sounds the water itself makes.

More than 200 graduands from Business and Tourism, Education, Health, Law, Arts and Social Sciences, SCU College and Environment, Science and Engineering will be honoured in front of family and friends across two ceremonies at 1pm and 4pm.