Indigenous Australian musicians.

The new generation

Baker Boy sings an attractive brand of upbeat hip hop in English and his ancestral language of Yolgnu Matha. Denzel Baker often teams up with his cousin Yirrmal in songs like ‘Marryuna’ and ‘Ride’.

Jessica Mauboy is a successful singer and actress, who performs original pop and R&B songs and appeared in the movie The Sapphires. She achieved success with ‘Little Things’, ‘Selfish’ and ‘Butterfly’.

Electric Fields typify the new generation. The duo of vocalist Zaachariaha Fielding and keyboard player and producer Michael Ross combine modern electric-soul music with Aboriginal culture and sing in Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara and English.

JK-47 – Jacob Paulson, known professionally as JK47, is an Indigenous rapper and musician whose debut album is ‘Made for This’.

Alice Skye is a Wergaia singer and songwriter. In 2017, she was the Triple J Unearthed National Indigenous Winner.

Briggs, aka A B Original, aka Senator Briggs, aka the guy from Hilltop Hoods. Adam Briggs is rapper, record label owner, comedy writer, actor and author.

The pioneers

Many of the pioneering Aboriginal musicians sing heart-felt songs about the suffering and survival of Indigenous Australians, in ballads and folk music.

Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter form a highly respected duo who have written and performed many songs throughout their long careers. Songs such as ‘They Took the Children Away’ recount the Stolen Generation, during which the Australian Government stole Aboriginal children from their families. The husband and wife duo also campaigned tirelessly for Aboriginal rights. Hunter died in 2010, aged 54.

Jimmy Little was the most well-known Aboriginal singer of his era. During his six-decade career, he sang country and gospel music in the style of Nat King Cole and Jim Reeves. His won acclaim with the gospel song ‘Royal Telephone’ and the album ‘Messenger’. Little passed away in 2012.

Kev Carmody is an award winning singer / songwriter who is best known for recording the song ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ with Paul Kelly. Tracks such as “Black Deaths in Custody” and “Thou Shalt Not Steal” describe the ignorance and oppression experienced by Indigenous Australians.

Frank Yamma is a Pitjantjatjara singer-songwriter who performed as a solo and with his band Piranpa. His albums include ‘Countryma’n and ‘Uncle’, and feature heartfelt lyrics and moving delivery.

Ursula Yovich is best known as an actress, but is also an accomplished musician. She has appeared in numerous TV series, movies and theatre productions, and has won many awards for musical scores, scriptwriting and acting.

Rock on…

The yidaki, or didgeridoo, seems to combine perfectly with rock music, which might explain the popularity of Indigenous rock bands. Yothu Yindi is the most famous Aboriginal band, and the group from Yirrkala in Arnhem Land shot to fame with their song ‘Treaty’. They mix Yolngu Matha and English, and combine traditional instruments with the sounds of modern rock in multiple albums of songs about their culture and the issues facing their people.

Warumpi Band also plays hard rock, but their sound comes from Papunya in central Australia. They wrote the song ‘My Island Home’, which was popularised by Torres Strait singer Christine Anu, and they gave Australia other songs such as ‘Blackfella / Whitefella’, ‘Breadline’ and ‘Fitzroy Crossing’.

Tiddas was one of the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s bands, made up of Dr Lou Bennett, Sally Dastey and Amy Saunders. Their lyrics were fierce and bold, addressing racism, dispossession, domestic violence and a raft of other social issues.

Dan Sultan is an alternative rock singer-songwriter and guitarist, actor and author. At the ARIA Music Awards of 2010 he won Best Male Artist and Best Blues & Roots Album for his second album, Get Out While You Can.

A little bit country…

Troy Cassar Daley is one of the most successful and popular Australian country music stars. He has won multiple Golden Guitar awards and many other awards during a long career.

The Pigram Brothers were a seven-piece band from Broome in Western Australia. Heavily involved in musical theatre, the formed the original backing band for ‘Bran Nue Dae’.

The Donovans – A country music band comprising brothers Michael, Ashley, Mervyn as well as Michael’s eldest daughter Shalina, plus Robert Graham on drums. Mervyn’s daughter Casey is also a successful singer.

Traditional

The Yolgnu people of north-east Arnhem Land have retained much of their culture and share this through song.

Gurrumul played drums, keyboards, guitar (a right-hand-strung guitar played left-handed) and didgeridoo, and attracted a loyal following with the clarity of his singing voice and songs in Yolngu Matha and English. He was once a member of Yothu Yindi and another band from the Top End, Saltwater Band. Gurrumul was the most commercially successful Aboriginal Australian musician at the time of his death in 2017.

Djalu Gurruwiwi – The master of the yidaki. The elder from Arnhem Land is regarded as one of the most skilled performers on the yidaki, the Yolngu word for didgeridoo. At festivals such as Garma, in Yirrkala, Djalu is feted by yidaki fans from all over the world. He is the subject of the film Westwind: Djalu’s Legacy.

William Barton is a composer, producer, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, is widely recognised as one of australia’s leading didgeridoo layers and composers.

Collaboration

Black Arm Band is an organisation which brings together blackfulla and whitefulla musicians with diverse musical backgrounds. Founded by Steven Richardson in 2005, the group is also committed to ongoing educational and development work in remote Aboriginal communities. The name refers to a speech by former Prime Minister John Howard who labelled a balanced version of Australian history as a Black Armband view of history.

Image: Warner Music