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

Do you wear headphones when you’re in the bush?

‘I’m not going to attack’, I wanted her to know. I mean no harm.

But I couldn’t tell her. I couldn’t reassure her until I was so close that she would fear me or question my intentions. The wind was blowing strongly into our faces and the cicadas were in full voice. I wanted to warn her of my presence and ask to pass on the narrow hiking track, but she hadn’t heard the scrunch of my hiking shoes on the loose stones and I feared that if I yelled it would startle her even more.

The she turned.

“OOH!” she yelped in shock and panic. I raised my hands to indicate I meant no harm and that I was just another hiker enjoying the fine weather and the surrounding beauty. I wasn’t a crazy stalker or pervert, despite the fact that I was walking without a pack or a water bottle. I’d walked this trail many times before and was completing my daily work out. I could hydrate at home.

“Oh. you scared me. I didn’t hear you.”

Probably because she was wearing headphones.

I don’t understand why people wear headphones while in the bush. Isn’t the point of hiking or biking to experience the natural world? To engage the five senses and immerse oneself in the sounds of nature. Hearing the wind rush through the trees and the birds sing. Listening to the water babble through the stream or thunder off the waterfall into the pool below. Even the squelch of sodden, muddy hiking shoes reminds you you’re alive.

Why do people deliberately shut this out when they venture into the bush?

How do they do it?

In an Australian summer, when the cicadas are in full voice, the din is so deafening that it must be impossible to hear the music without doing permanent damage to one’s eardrums.

Isn’t it dangerous?

Dangerous animals lurk in the woods. We play in their world. Many of them are silent but others are not. Surely it’s better to hear the animals before they set upon you, before it’s too late. At least give yourself a chance to escape, or to extract the bear spray from your pack.

The silent killers offer no warning. They lurk in hidden corners or sometimes display themselves proudly and fearlessly in full view. Concentrating on what lies ahead could save your life. Concentrating on what lies ahead is more difficult when you’re engrossed in a playlist or a compelling podcast.

What are you missing out on?

With headphones firmly attached you will only notice what exists in your immediate surroundings. What lies off the track? What lies just metres from the trail? You’ll never know if you remain plugged into your headphones. You won’t hear the distinctive grunt of a koala up a tree or have the chance to sit below it and watch it gorge on gum leaves. The next time you see a koala might be at a zoo surrounded by hysterical tourists jostling for that perfect selfie with Australia’s most lovable creature.

You might miss the perfectly camouflaged creatures who inhabit the natural world, or the impossibly colourful Australian parrot varieties.

Maybe some people just can’t disconnect. Venturing into the outdoors is one of the best ways to disconnect from the pervasive technology of the modern world, yet some people take it with them.

Disconnect from technology and connect with nature.