There is a passion that comes from music. The art form can portray feelings and emotions so beautifully. Often the music is not so much about the message but about having a good time and dancing and both forms are great. But when the music has a message it stirs something within that makes the song that much more powerful.
The Australian radio station, Triple J, hosts a weekly segment called ‘Like A Version’. Australian artists are invited on and have the opportunity to sing one of their own songs or their version of a classic. In celebration of NAIDOC week, the segment has hosted multiple Indigenous emcees sharing their message of Indigenous rights or heritage by adding a spin to a classic song.
Indigenous Mildura rapper, Philly (real name Phillip Murray), has taken to the Triple j studios this morning for a special NAIDOC (National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee) week edition of Like A Version, covering Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”.
Philly prefaced his cover version by saying, “I feel like the indigenous culture needs to be celebrated so much more and just acknowledged because it is the oldest living culture in the world and that’s something not only Aboriginal people should be proud of – that’s something the whole of Australia should be proud of.” “Bob Marley was down for just peace, love and unity – I’m down for peace, love and unity,” he added.
Philly’s beautiful take on Marley’s roots, reggae classic saw him rap a combination of his own lyrics, as well as Marley’s original lyrics. Listening to this song is beautiful, not just for the original song but also the message that is being shared. The first verse shares the message of fighting discrimination and sharing the message of peace, love and unity.
Philly goes on to share the message of equality, while also carrying the torch for the community, knowing that it is on him to share a message and represent the Indigenous culture. This sentiment is a sentiment shared by many Indigenous artists in the spotlight. Indigenous actress Miranda Tapsell shared with The Guardian how when she walks onto a set or performs she considers how this will affect the community, “Is it making them proud? Is it educating them about their culture? Is it historically accurate?” For a culture that is often underrepresented, they feel it is their job to educate. In Philly’s cover version he raps “ See I’m just tryna reach you and hopefully teach you, This is my attempt of planting an idea in your mind, so then you can help the next person that they may seem a little blind, I feel an emcee like me has the key to unlock closed minds.”
Adam Briggs, stage name Briggs, has gained a reputation for representing and highlighting the Indigenous culture through the media and his music. His satirical song, “Life is Incredible” highlights the difference in Indigenous health and life expectancy compared to others. Briggs is known for speaking out against January 26th being celebrated as Australia Day and calls it Invasion Day, a day that saw the massacre of many indigenous people when the white settlers arrived.
In 2016 Briggs teamed up with Aussie icon, Paul Kelly, with a re-mix of the Australian classic “Dumb Things”, making the song more relevant than ever before. While sampling the original Kelly chorus Briggs raised some seriously contentious issues facing Australia right now including complacency towards racism, death in custody, Australia’s refugee policy and “Black Face”.
Briggs released his song “The Children Came Back” championing Australia’s First People during Naidoc week 2015. The song commemorates Indigenous Australians who have triumphed despite the Australian government’s oppressive policies, such as cultural assimilation and removing children from their families.
This is a history lesson, a monologue, a celebration and an education in one song. The song serves as a sequel to Archie Roach’s “They Took the Children Away”, produced 25 years ago, paying homage to the generation of Indigenous children who were removed from their families.
Artists like these, as well as sports players like Cathy Freeman and Adam Goode, work to highlight how Australia’s history of dispossession and disempowerment of First Nation people has left its mark and that racism continues to have a traumatic and damaging impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.