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

My soul for your sol.

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Photographing people can be challenging.

Photographing people of different cultures, religions and nationalities can be even more complicated.

How do we photograph people while travelling without causing offence?

This conundrum presented itself to me while travelling in Peru.

It soon became apparent that many local people living and working near tourist hot spots such as Cusco and Arequipa did not like being photographed. It was also apparent that certain travellers insisted on photographing these people.In reaction, some local people demanded payment for appearing in traveller’s photos. For a few ‘Nuevo Soles’, they would acquiesce to performing the role of subject.

This arrangement led one fellow traveller to remark,

“They’ll give you their soul in return for your Sol.”

The traveller was referring to a commonly-held belief that Peruvians, and other indigenous people, are reluctant to appear in photographs because they think that the camera will steal their soul.

Some cultures forbid being photographed. Australian Indigenous people traditionally forbid photographs, even though today’s youth, even in remote communities, have fallen under the spell of the selfie.

Local people living in tourist hot spots, such as those in Peru, detest photography because they’re simply sick of it. Sick of arrogant tourists appearing in their community on a fly-by visit only to shove a camera, or phone, in their face and demand a photo.

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Analysing this phenomena theoretically or philosophically informs us of the concept of the ‘other’. Theoretically, the ‘other’ is a person or thing that does not belong to our culture and is therefore different. Our culture is the norm, and any other culture, and people belonging to that culture, are the ‘other’.

Travel, and photographing people, can be a manifestation of ‘othering’. Travellers, who journey to lands that are different to their own, seek photos with people simply because they are different. The visitor is not interested in that person’s thoughts, personality, motivations – only interested in what makes that person exotic, strange, different…the ‘other’.

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Without delving too deeply into philosophy, it could be argued that the visitor chases photographs of the ‘other’, because sharing those images with friends and family makes that person appear more travelled, more worldly, more exotic.

Some local people have responded to their ‘othering’ in a pragmatic way. Some reluctantly pose for tourists, in return for cash or in the hope that visitors will buy more of their Maasai souvenirs. Photo done, the traditionally-adorned Maasai warrior resumes playing on his smartphone.

In contrast, some local people are perfectly happy to be photographed, especially kids.

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Personally, I have never experienced any major issues with photographing people. I try to be respectful traveller, but I’m also not a passionate photographer (in fact, at the moment I don’t even own a camera) so I simply don’t take many photos.

I have, however, been in situations in which the opportunity arose for me to take a photo of a public event, even a private event that was happening in a public space, and I took the opportunity to snap a photo as a passive observer. My photo was never going to make any difference to that event.

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Photographing children is another topic altogether. Their images can appear anywhere, and be used for any sinister purpose. Such is the potential danger that a Surf Life Saving Club in Sydney, Australia, has banned parents from taking photos of their own children during ‘Nippers’ (junior life saving training). Instead, the club hires a professional photographer to take photos of the children, and parents can only access those photos through a password-protected site.

This is the world we live in.

Also, as an aside, when I first started backpacking (when I was a boy…) smartphones and even digital cameras were rare. Many travellers carried a film camera and had to re-stock on film, preciously guard their used film, and wait until they arrived home, which could be six months later, before they could process the film and see how their photos turned out.

In such circumstances, one travel buddy once remarked.

“Film is more valuable than your passport. You can replace your passport, but you can’t go back to that very moment and take exactly the same picture.”

Thus, while photography can be a fulfilling activity to accompany a journey, perhaps we should all remind ourselves to enjoy that very moment.