Celebrating our contemporary indigenous musicians
FOR thousands upon thousands of years, music has been a significant part of Aboriginal culture. So it's no surprise that there has been many indigenous musicians, across multiple musical genres, that have had successful careers. Today this column highlights some of our most prominent artists.
One of the best, was the late great Jimmy Little, a Yorta Yorta man from Cummeragunja Aboriginal reserve, on the NSW/Victoria border. As a singer/songwriter, his career began in the 1950s when Aboriginal people were not even considered citizens of Australia. He paved the way for other Aboriginal musicians and his efforts were recognised when he was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 1999. His most well-known hit was "Royal Telephone". Jimmy passed away in 2012.
Obviously musical abilities run strong in the Little family, as Jimmy's niece, Deborah Cheetham is a well known and respected soprano. Deborah, a member of the stolen generation, is also a talented actor, composer and playwright.
Another member of the Stolen Generation who has found success as a singer-songwriter is Archie Roach. He has won five ARIA Awards and was nominated for a further nine awards. His most well-known song is the heart wrenching "Took the Children Away". Archie was awarded an international Human Rights Achievement award for this song. This was the first time that a songwriter had been awarded this award for a song he had composed. Archie has connections to the Clarence Valley with his father's family the Roachs originating locally. In fact, a song on one of Archie's more recent albums is the "the Mighty Clarence River".
Of course we cannot discuss Aboriginal musicians and the Clarence Valley without mentioning one of the Valley's favourite sons - Troy Cassar Daley. Since leaving the Valley, Troy has gone on to achieve major success in the Australian country music industry. He has released 10 studio albums and won numerous awards including 36 golden guitars, four ARIA awards.
Another talented indigenous country artist is Roger Knox. Although not well-known in the mainstream community, to many Aboriginal people Roger is something of a legend. A Gamilaroi man from Boggabilla, Roger often sings about life from an indigenous perspective in songs such as "Streets of Old Tamworth" and "Blue Gum Trees".
With the voice of an angel and singing in both English and traditional Aboriginal languages, Gurrumul from Elcho Island in the Northern Territory, was one of Australia's most commercially successful indigenous artists. Born blind, he became known, both in Australia and internationally, for his music that celebrated his traditional culture. Sadly, he passed away in 2017, at 46 years old. Released posthumously, his 4th album "Djarimirri" (meaning Child of the Rainbow) debuted on the ARIA charts at number 1, ahead of albums by Ed Sheeran and Kylie Minogue. In 2018 a documentary was released telling the story of his amazing but unfortunately short life.
Other indigenous artists to achieve fame include: Torres Strait Islander woman Christine Anu, Casey Donovan; winner of Australian Idol in 2004, Jessica Mauboy who has achieved fame both as a singer and an actor, Dan Sultan nominated for 8 ARIAS and winning 1 and Yothu Yindi, with its lead singer, the late Mandawuy Yunupingu being named 1992 Australian of the Year.
So if you haven't heard any of these artists, as Molly Meldrum would say "do yourself a favour" and go listen and enjoy their music.
Giinagay Jinggiwahla ("hello" in our first nations languages) is a weekly column written by the indigenous communities of the Clarence Valley covering a vareity of topics, opinions and events across our first nation areas Bundjalung, Yaegl and Gumbaynggirr.