The annual National Indigenous Music Awards (NIMAs) is Australia’s premier showcase of the vast landscape of Aboriginal music that’s as rich and varied as the country itself. This month, OTL catches NIMA fever.
Part awards night, part music festival, this year’s NIMAs is set to be a corker, with a stellar line up including indie darlings The Medics, 90s rockers Sunrize Band (pictured), country icon Troy Cassar-Daley, and newbies East Journey.
Having once been dubbed ‘the ARIAs for Blackfellas’, the NIMAs have come a long way since 2004’s inaugural event. In that time, audience numbers have more than tripled and the awards have begun extending their Territory roots nation-wide opening nominations to the general public, making the pool of talent into which the NIMA dips its toe very deep indeed.
“We changed it this year so anyone could nominate any band,” says Mark Smith of MusicNT, the event’s organiser. “And we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of bands nominated.”
The boost makes this year’s NIMAs particularly exciting, painting a richer picture of the Indigenous music scene right now and offering Indigenous musicians in remoter corners the chance to appear on the industry’s big-fish radars.
Once described as ‘the Jimi Hendrix of Arnhem Land’ by Afro-Latino musician, Carlos Santana, Ben Pasco and the Sunrize Band made it big in the 90s, but cut short their success for cultural reasons following the death of guitarist Kenny Smith. more than 10 years later, the Sunrize Band returns for the 2012 NIMAs. “We’ll play some of those old songs from the 90s,” Pascoe promises. “Land Rights and Black Boy Rock and Roll. I can imagine people still have that bouncing in their heads.”
He’s heartened by the potential and diversity of his country’s emerging musicians. “You’ve got all types of music here,” he says, counting them off. “You’ve got country, you’ve got reggae, you’ve got hard rock, you’ve got heavy metal. it’s all on, and there’s talent up here.” He pauses. “Talent,” he repeats emphatically.
Relatively new to the scene, and finalists in the recent NT Song of the Year Awards, Arnhem outfit East Journey are also set to play. Boasting no fewer than eight members, the band is a sonic freight truck for a distinct musical style that fuses contemporary instrumentation with the ancient yidaki (didgeridoo), bilma (clapsticks).
“We developed a new style of Western rock and acoustic mixed with the traditional sounds of our ancestors,” says drummer Gathapura Mununggurr, of the distinct invocation of Yolngu culture that drives their music – an analogy, of sorts, for reconciliation.
Sitting on the other end of this year’s NIMA spectrum are triple j favourites The Medics, performing with drummer Jhindu Lawrie’s father, Bunna Lawrie of the band Coloured Stone from Koonibba Mission in South Australia.
In stark contrast to East Journey, The medics’ music does not directly incorporate any Indigenous elements. “We’re just a normal band,” singer Kahl Wallace laughs, adding that the band connect with their Indigenous audiences through representing the new wave of Indigenous acts coursing through the national arena, like Jessica Mauboy and Busby Marou. “There’s a world out there,” he says. “It’s about not making the world a scary thing.”
The diversity on show at the NIMAs is testament to the long journey Indigenous music has travelled in Australia. “I think it’s good that ‘Indigenous’ isn’t considered one genre of music,” Smith says. “Instead, Indigenous people are playing music, and that music is standing on its own.”
When: Sat 11 Aug | Gates open 6pm
Where: Amphitheatre, George’s Green
Cost: $25 | $20 Conc | 12 yr & Under Free
Booking: www.darwinfestival.org.au | 8943 4222
Note: this is an alcohol-free event