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Arnhem Land artist first to rap in Indigenous language

May 20, 2017
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Posted May 21, 2017 09:26:07

Musician and dancer Baker Boy had a clear goal in mind: he wanted to be Australia’s first Aboriginal artist to rap in an Indigenous language.

And with the release of his track Cloud 9, which features the 20-year-old rapping in Yolngu Matha, he’s on his way.

Baker Boy, also known as Danzel Baker, is from Milingimbi community in north-eastern Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.

He has a distinguished cultural pedigree — the Djuki Mala dancer is related to up-and-coming musicians Garruwa and Yirrmal, and hails from a part of the country that has produced major Australian acts such as Yothu Yindi and Gurrumul.

English is Baker’s third language, and said he noticed that although there were Aboriginal rappers on Australia’s music scene, there wasn’t anyone rapping in Indigenous languages.

“I don’t see or hear anyone that raps in language in Australia … I wanted to be the first Aboriginal rapper to rap in language, so I started writing,” he said.

His song, released this month, is an exuberant look at life in Milingimbi, starring much of Baker’s extended family and showcasing the region’s spectacular scenery.

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He said it’s important for kids living in remote communities to see and hear themselves represented in popular culture.

“[It’s] making them proud,” he said.

“They see me as a role model, [I’m] going to communities and they spin out that ‘this guy’s rapping in language and it’s amazing’.”

Music as a pathway to inspire kids

For several years Baker has been working with the Indigenous Hip-Hop Projects (IHHP), which uses the musical form to connect with young people who might be getting involved in harmful behaviours such as taking drugs, drinking and sniffing petrol.

“What I’m trying to tell them is, we can use our traditional culture,” he said.

“I’m trying to inspire young kids … I’m trying to get them back on track and try to jump into their culture.”

Baker wants to use music to help young Indigenous kids navigate their way through both the traditional and Western worlds.

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“What I’m trying to do is put two worlds, merge into one and get a strong connection with both worlds; there’s a lack of communication and education as well.”

Hip-hop a voice for the disempowered

IHHP director Michael Farah said he himself turned to hip-hop as a form of self-expression as a child.

“I came from a poor family and [hip-hop had] almost no rules,” he said.

“It screamed out to me that I could do it at home, do it in my own environment.

“There’s a type of hip-hop that’s quite aggressive, but if you really listen to the lyrics, particularly of older hip-hop, it’s about the struggle of the people, it’s about having a voice.”

He said music had been a pathway to talk to communities about difficult issues.

“As we know, not a lot happens in remote communities: there’s a high rate of boredom and from boredom come a lot of things that aren’t so great,” Mr Farah said.

“[Indigenous] people love to just get together, be with family, and have a good time.

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“That’s what we try to show as much as we can: yes, we do acknowledge there are problems in communities, but there are problems in cities as well … we want to focus on what’s working in communities.”

He said the organisation’s artists aimed to be there to direct young people towards something more positive.

“We just need to be there at that pivotal moment in their life where they want to make a change to themselves, we can turn around and say, ‘hey, here’s another way’,” he said.

For his part, Baker Boy is now living in Melbourne and travelling around the country working with young people.

But he misses many elements of home, including “fishing, no traffic, bit quiet, nature sounds, traditional dancing and gathering with family, having big feed up, catching heaps of good seafood,” he said.

Topics: music, dance-music, indigenous-music, music-industry, people, community-and-society, milingimbi-0822

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