Backroads, North East Victoria
Monday morning, February, 2020
Monday morning. Grey sultry skies. I’m on my way to work, feeling about as alive as the dusty, yellowing paddocks I’m driving through. Sometimes I wonder why I came to this part of the world. Who would have thought that the hills of North East Victoria would be no match for the rich red rock-scapes of the Territory? I’ll need to stop for coffee at the next servo, I tell myself. Even if its crap, it might wake me up a bit for the day ahead.
The radio is on low. The Triple J DJ is raving about an incredible performance by Aboriginal rapper, Baker Boy, at the Firey’s Fundraiser concert in Sydney the night before. I turn up the volume. I’ve followed his energetic antics from when he used to perform with Djuki Mala (The Chooky Dancers) through to his winning Young Australian of The Year last year. It’s been hard not to. Before I moved South, the young people I often worked with in remote communities in Central Australia would listen to local Indigenous musos singing in the many languages of the Territory over whitefella stuff any day. They would spend hours on the community centre computers trawling through the music clips on Indigitube by local metal, country and reggae bands, and they were always happy to re-watch the videos of the annual Bush Bands Bash competition held in Alice Springs every year.
Baker Boy was from way up North though, from Milingimbi and Maningrida in Arnhem Land, worlds and languages way from the Central desert. But still, he was young, Aboriginal and knew what growing up on a remote community was like, speaking languages that have been spoken for thousands of years, learning English later, and living a rich culture and lifestyle that not many Australians even know about. But he also embraced the stuff young people everywhere do; rap music, dancing, clothes, love. He was an inspiration, a role model, and like the other indigenous musos and footy players that have “made it” nationally, he was proof that bush kids can succeed, and that when you do, you can be strong and proud of who you are and where you’re from.
The DJ follows her rave with a recent Baker Boy hit. It opens with the frenetic magic energy of the didg, and as the beats kick in, bam, suddenly my car is dance club. Beginning with the cry Music is the Metijin, Baker Boy’s lyrics come thick and fast. Pretty soon my lethargy gives way to the track’s exuberant joy and my hand is slapping the steering wheel. In Baker Boy’s first language Yolgnu Matha, “Meditjin” is how you say medicine. As he often does in his songs, he is soon rapping an entire verse in Yolgnu Matha, a passionate acknowledgment and respect for his culture, language and community.
…Giritji marrtji dhiyaŋun bal
Yaka gori ŋali go
Ŋupanmirr yolthu malthun li beat-gu
Djamarrkuḻi’ mirithirr li prize-gu…
When I lived in Central Australia, there were about a dozen languages spoken, just around the Alice Springs region alone. I’d loved hearing them every day, and tried without much success to learn some basics. There were also many inspiring arts, media and social initiatives driven by Aboriginal people that sought to share, promote and maintain the hundreds of different Indigenous languages once spoken across the land. But then alongside these, you could still meet old people who remembered being forbidden to speak their first languages by colonizers and missionaries, and to this day the fight for the basic human right to teach Aboriginal kids in their own first languages continues.
But there’s no stopping Baker Boy.
…I’m not Kendrick, but I’m humble
Bilingual, I don’t mumble
People listen but they don’t understand
I’m just a brother reppin’ Arnhem Land…
But he is also sharing an undeniably universal message about the power of music. When the track came out, Baker Boy also released a statement: “Music is the best meditjin, it brings everyone together, makes you want to dance, love, laugh, vibe and feel and I wrote Meditjin with just that in mind”. From all the hype around him, there’s no doubt Baker Boy’s music, often sung in Yolgnu Matha, and always relevant to his heritage and experiences as a young Aboriginal man living across different cultures, is an inspirational and healing force with broad appeal from his remote homelands to international stages.
And here, miles from the Territory, on this grey Southern morning, his high-impact energetic words and beats are definitely meditjin to my listless, homesick soul. As the tune finishes, I drive right on past the crap coffee at the roadside servo.
Stereo Story #485