With NAIDOC Week upon us, it’s a good time to reflect upon the First Nations artists breaking down the barriers which often limit diversity in the music industry. Although rising star Baker Boy has found success bringing traditional language and culture into the mainstream through his music, the industry hardly fosters Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander talent and, as a result, the Archie Roaches of Australian music are few and far between.
As with any art form, music is a vehicle for storytelling and if we are only listening to the narratives and perspectives of musicians from certain cultures, then we’re missing a big part of the picture. If you’re not already, it’s worth extending your listening habits beyond your bubble and seeking music from all kinds of creators — not just this week but every day. To get you started, here are a few of the hottest Indigenous artists to add to your playlists immediately.
Hailing from Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory, Emily Wurramara relocated to Brisbane at the age of six. After releasing her award-winning EP Black Smoke in 2016, she’s made it her mission to bring her culture to the urban consciousness. Wurramara dropped her debut LP Milyakburra last year, a collection of songs detailing the conflicting themes of life in the city and her roots in the NT, and further cemented herself as an artist to watch. Incorporating English and her traditional language Anindilyakwa in her music, Wurramara is not only working to break the mould for Indigenous artists, but she also aims to bring female voices of her culture to the forefront.
Wergaia and Wamba Wamba woman Alice Skye first caught our attention in 2015 with the release of her debut single ‘You Are The Mountains’ and has been on the rise ever since. Last year, Skye dropped her debut album Friends With Feelings, which saw her go on to win triple j Unearthed’s 2018 National Indigenous Music Awards and sign to Briggs’ label Bad Apples Music. Though she now resides in Melbourne, the serene energy of her home in regional Horsham leaks into Skye’s placid, mesmerising folk sound.
You’ve probably seen the name DRMNGNOW floating around on festival lineups of late, and for good reason. The Yorta Yorta rapper and producer, otherwise known as Neil Morris, marries elements of traditional R&B with experimental hip hop and messages surrounding colonisation, culture and country for truly evocative and forward-thinking music. His tunes look to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people while giving white Australians pause for thought. It’s striking, confronting and thought-provoking while maintaining appeal.
Ziggy Ramo is one of the voices steering the new direction of Australian hip hop right now. A powerhouse of politically-charged rhymes and provocative themes, Ramo melds slick flow with cutting honesty as he unpacks everything from race relations to gender equality and mental health. Making a splash in 2016 with Black Thoughts, he’s garnered the praise of heavyweights Remi and Briggs while establishing himself as a strong force within the hip hop scene.
Electronic producer and Wiradjuri descendent Kuren – aka Curtis Kennedy – has been making music since he was 14. After honing his sound over the past handful of years, Kuren dropped his debut album Melting Conceptually in 2018. Not only has his emotive, and often dark, electronica made for some tasty releases, Kuren has channelled his talent into community-focused projects such as the SBS interactive ‘My Grandmother’s Lingo’ and BLAK BOX, an art installation embracing the power of listening in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.