ethno australia is an annual music program which consists of a 10 day music gathering in december each year, followed by performances at woodford folk festival, world by night and a number of other performance platforms. bemac run ethno australia as part of an international network, coordinated by jeunesses musicales international.

TPS Involvement:

TPS initiated contact with JMI for the first Ethno camp in the Eastern Hemisphere. Funding was secured through the SGC Music Hub and working with partners in Thailand, India and Australia. Partners in this project include Wantok Music Foundation, BEMAC and Southern Cross University.

 In collaboration with Krabi Studios, a short documentary was produced about a young performer from Ethno Australia named Emily Foster that was aired on NITV in November 2013. Watch here


Title:                                      Ethno Australia
Contributors:                       Ben Farr-Wharton, Thomas Dick
More info:


Video from Ethno 2011 – featuring the Ussaleemala Thai Sea Gypsies through the Krabi-Queensland Engagement Project

Opening Ceremony of Woodford 2013 featuring the Ethno Orchestra


“ethno” is a european music camp for young and talented folk musicians. for the past 25 years, anywhere from 50 to 250 young folk musicians from diverse backgrounds come together for about two weeks of intense jam sessions, workshops and curation. each participant shares a rhythm, beat, melody, tune or instrument from his or her culture. at the end of the two weeks, the result is that all of the participants form a folk music orchestra that performs at a festival.

some background

history has somewhat eroded the cultural and linguistic diversity of europe. there are approximately 230 languages spoken there. there are at least this many aboriginal languages in australia alone (more likely double this amount). solomon islands has 50. vanuatu has 120. png has a whopping 850! these are totally discrete languages – not dialects.

the narrative of the european concept of ethno (a “brand” of sorts, which sits under the administration of jeunesses musicales internationale (jmi)) uses the terms “folk” and “traditional” music interchangeably. this carries with it a hint of the colonial mindset of the past few hundred years. here in the asia-pacific, the term “traditional music” refers to something distinct from “folk music”. folk festivals in australia are still very popular but generally this type of music runs the european line off irish reels and jigs, polkas, romany gypsy music, and other southern and eastern european variants. most of these musical forms have lost the connection with their cultural origins – in the sense that they are no longer associated with the sacred or ceremonial. and so ethno camps in europe often tend more towards a contiki-style musical swingers party.

much of the traditional music of china, india, and other asian cultures, and to a greater extent in australia, melanesia and other pacific countries exists in a different paradigm: these are living cultures where music is inextricably linked with quotidian reality, ceremonial and sacred rites and rituals, and is a part of a greater system of law and lore.

ethno australia? 

ethno australia is about “blackwashing” the ethno narrative. putting the “traditional” in the hands of the people who are still part of a living culture. respecting the law and the kastom around music.


many different cultures inhabit the asia pacific region and the chances to collaborate and influence each other are increasing all the time. ethno is a unique project for traditional/folk musicians. each gathering draws participants from around the globe. folk musicians meet to teach each other, by ear, traditional folk songs from their cultures. through sharing and collaborating bonds are formed and new interpretations are spawned.