They’re artists, activists, peacemakers, protestors and performers. They’re word whittlers – especially skilled in carving against the grain. Their art is hewn from music and poetry and their own cultural inheritance. And what excites me the most about them is that they’re re-mapping the borders that define what it is to look/sound/be an Australian artist today.
They’ve been getting some well-deserved attention in the mainstream media but if you haven’t heard of them yet, take some time to follow some of the links below. But let that just be a start!
SAMPA THE GREAT
Sampa is an exceptional, extraordinary, hugely talented local hip hop artist, rapper and sound artist. I had the pleasure of meeting her last year at the New Beginnings Refugee Arts and Culture Festival. She was the MC for the first half and I was volunteering as stage manager that morning. I hadn’t heard of her before that day – had never listened to her music. I liked her instantly – and even more when I saw her drift off into the crowd to dance spontaneously. (And felt like a total killjoy waving her back to introduce the next act). I looked her up afterwards. She had 4k-ish followers on Facebook back then. Now, over 15k.
Sampa’s latest album ‘The Great Mixtape’ is a favourite of mine at the moment. I love that each track flows straight into the next, clunky and disjointed like she cut up and sticky taped together one of those old school tapes to make the album itself. The first track ‘Intro’ is punchy-as and the rest of the album follows suit. She raps about privilege, purpose, agency, resilience, racism, cultural roots and class. Her raps are mighty, righteous and unapologetic, from the Intro’s “a fool would only try to step up to a Queen/bigger than the biggest Im’a take your whole team”, to Jamal’s “I am the sun/I am the moon/I am the stars/I am the middle, the end and the start” and “even though I don’t give a f*** what you think of me… I’m obliged to be a friend not an enemy”, to “Big bold women….Get-my-goals women…Know-my-roots women, round of applause” in FEMaLE. Perhaps the most powerful of the tracks in terms of the album’s messaging is Revolution. This song, essentially about black emancipation, is a layering of historical audio samples of black activists (including Malcolm X) orchestrated above the beats.
Musically, I hear so many influences in this album from Reggae, to traditional African rhythms and neo-soul. But what is really interesting is that at times it sounds like experimental sound art. An example of this is the beginning of Weoo: a pulsating, industrial, metallic sonic world before the finger click beats bring us back to an R&B-ish reality making way for the voice. I think the album defies being categorised into any genre completely – and this is its brilliance of course. It’s a testament to Sampa’s incredibly diverse influences. Read more about them and how they inform the whole album in this review/interview here. Watch Sampa talk about how her heritage grounds her and informs her creativity in this brilliant interview on HuffPost here.
Luka is many things: poet, teacher, rapper, agitator, social justice activist. My words are poor here. Watch. Just watch.
Worth a special mention is a super interesting cross-arts collaborative project Luka has in development at the moment, Odysseus Live. I was lucky enough to see the first showing at The Con last year and found it enthralling in parts. It melds theatre, spoken word, video art and contemporary classical and electronic music in a “re-imagining” of The Odyssey, punctuated with some hip hop. I’m really looking forward to seeing the next evolution of the work.
And one of my personal favourite poems is YiaYia. I watched this with my daughter and we shared knowing giggles. It was probably the first time she saw someone (albeit through YouTube) perform on stage something so totally relevant and relatable to her own experience of family. Thanks Luka.
Hooked. On. This. Guy. Right. Now. I’ve been devouring over and over again his latest self-published book of poems, Millefiori. His most recent hip hop album Dead Centre was on loop in my car for a good month when I first got it. And I’ve recommended his debut novel Here Come the Dogs to everyone and anyone I’ve come across with an interest in contemporary Australian writing. Omar is another artist that can’t be boxed into one genre or one art-form. He moves across them and through them deftly. The common thread running through all his work is the way he re-positions the dominant cultural lens, claiming the centre for the marginalised.
L-FRESH the LION
“I’m the storyteller, cut from a Punjabi diamond/Shining between lines with rhymes I identify with/An Australian-born lion made to feel like a migrant” – Lyrics from The Past Becomes You by Omar Musa featuring L-Fresh and others
L-Fresh is hip hop artist, social change activist and peaceful protestor in equal measures. Reckoning with identity and advocating for social inclusion are themes that run through all his work. His most recent album Become (a constant favourite in this house) draws inspiration heavily from his cultural and religious inheritance and his lived experience growing up first generation Australian in south-western Sydney. Watch L talk about his identity, work and music here. And if you can, go see him live – he radiates all that he stands for and he puts on a such a good show too.