First Nations Australia Essentials

First Nations Australia Essentials

The importance of a song like “Treaty” can’t be overstated. The resonant, political 1991 track did more than make Yolngu band Yothu Yindi a household name in Australia. It became the first song by a predominantly Aboriginal group, sung mostly in an Aboriginal language (Gumatj, a Yolngu Matha dialect), to chart in the country, and the first song to bring First Nations sounds, stories, and depictions of life and land to a mainstream audience. In the years since, the popularity of First Nations artists is obvious in every corner of contemporary music. This playlist documents the essential tracks by the essential artists who have defined and redefined what it means to be a First Nations artist in Australia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (collectively known as First Nations) people form the world’s oldest living culture. And so much of the storytelling, traditions, and cultures of First Nations communities are enacted and shared through song. Seventeen years after “Treaty,” the late Yolngu folk legend Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, who also played in Yothu Yindi and the Saltwater Band, released his groundbreaking solo album Gurrumul. One of the most successful albums by a First Nations artist in Australian music history, its songs, like “Djȁrimirri” (“child of the rainbow”), communicated a deep sense of warmth and tranquility, sung in the Yolngu language of his native Elcho Island with such clarity that listeners who couldn’t speak the language or understand the exact meaning of his lyrics could nevertheless be deeply moved. The music of First Nations artists often tells powerful stories of land, family, injustice, and oppression. Stories are told tenderly, like Archie Roach’s 1990 song “Took the Children Away,” perhaps the most enduring, heartbreaking portrayal of the Stolen Generation—the forcible removal of thousands of First Nations children from their families over more than 60 years—on record. They’re told aggressively, too—using searing intensity over snarling production, hip-hop duo A.B. Original’s “January 26” pleads a case for Australia’s need to change the date of its national holiday, a commemoration of colonial invasion, land theft, massacre, and widespread oppression. They’re told with love and pride, such as Christine Anu’s now-iconic “My Island Home,” an ode to her Torres Strait Islander heritage and land. First Nations music and artists are, today, more present than ever, achieving popularity well beyond home turf. The Kid LAROI, of Kamilaroi descent, is perhaps Australian hip-hop’s biggest global success story ever, clocking Grammy nominations, huge collaborations, and chart-topping tracks like “STAY.” Elsewhere, you have jubilant funk (Baker Boy), emotive pop (Thelma Plum), bluesy rock (Mo’Ju), acoustic intimacy (Emily Wurramara), and soaring earworms (Jessica Mauboy). First Nations communities have come together through music and song for more than 60,000 years, and that tradition will continue for many, many more. This playlist was created by Wiradjuri woman Jaja Dare and the artwork was created in collaboration with Gamilaraay artist Michelle Jackson. Apple acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, culture, and community. We pay our respects to Elders past, present, and emerging.

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