Mr T E Lewis has died at 59: it's time to relive one of his greatest triumphs
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following article may contain images and voices of people who have died.
In recognition of his extraordinary public life, Mr T E Lewis' family have agreed to the use of his image and voice.
There are a handful of criminally underappreciated albums that I hold especially close to my heart. Albums that I try and foist upon anyone who’ll listen, in a generally futile attempt to spread the word about a piece of music that’s not getting the attention it deserves.
One of these albums is Beneath The Sun, the 2013 record from Mr T E Lewis.
My knowledge of film and theatre is poor at best, so Beneath The Sun was my first interaction with this man’s work. I never saw any of his many acclaimed films or plays. I didn’t hear his first solo record, Sunshine After Rain, released eight years earlier, nor did I hear anything he did with his jazz group Lewis & Young in the 90s.
But I’m pleased this was my introduction. It’s not a life-changing record. It’s not a boundary pushing record. But it’s a record with such heart, with such a beautiful feel to it, that to hear it is a powerful experience. The richness of the arrangements – its lush horns and strings – is a brilliant contrast to the rough and hearty voice of Mr Lewis.
The timbre of that voice alone tells stories about a life lived so richly, before you even get to his lyrics. Then you hear a song like ‘Can’t Change Your Name’, which was a cathartic look back at getting chased from his community after his success as an actor in the mid-80s, and you realise this is great art in every sense.
I loved the record so much that I immediately knew I had to speak with him. He called me from Katherine and chatted openly about his life. His time in Melbourne as part of a scene where he hung with friends like Paul Hester and Ross Hannaford, his aspirations in music and theatre, and his dreams for the community in which he was living and working.
He told me I had to come up and see it for myself and I meant it when I told him I would. But I still haven’t made it to the Walking With Spirits festival he curated in his final years, and it’s now a great regret.
His warmth and willingness to chat – in spite of my poor knowledge of his immense body of work – was energising. At this point he was in his mid-50s, but as eager as anyone to push himself to try new things and challenge himself creatively.
"Mr Lewis will be forever remembered for his compelling and enduring work on stage and screen over 40 years, as a renowned musician, and as the driving force and vision behind Djilpin Arts with his partner and his extended family of Beswick and Arnhem Land communities," a statement issued today announced.
I’m so pleased that this man gave so much to so many people. And I’m so glad he gave us this brilliant, unsung record.
If you feel it’s appropriate, I urge you to seek out Beneath The Sun this weekend and play it loud.
Read Michael Dwyer’s excellent bio, which helped draw me to this great record in the first place.
If you don’t have the time or patience for that, then at least listen to this song. A powerful and beautiful piece of music that is completely world class. Try and tell me this shouldn’t have been bigger.
At this stage, we can only hope that people will discover the work of this great man posthumously. He deserved more, but isn’t that so often the case?