The Australian hip hop scene has become a space for artists from culturally diverse backgrounds to share their stories of belonging, adversity and life in Australia.
For some artists, a love of hip hop began with an early education in music across multiple genres. Jimblah, an Indigenous artist of Larrakia, Bardi, Yanuwa and Wadaman nations says, “my dad was a singer-songwriter. He got me into drums when I was about 6. He was showing me different kinds of music - from soul to rock and country and pop.”
For Lady Lash, an Indigenous artist of the Kokatha nation, “in the mid 80s, my mother Theresa, in particular, listened to a lot of 70s soul and disco music.”
But hip hop stood out amongst the mix for a number of reasons– the genre and culture of hip hop was originally driven by African American and Latino musicians in New York during the 1970s.
Hau, an Australian artist born to Tongan parents, says that seeing artists from these backgrounds resonated with him. He grew up in Queanbeyan and Canberra in the 1980s.
“We sometimes felt like outsiders. There were a handful of Islander families there and a handful of African and Asian families. There was the connection of being in a predominantly white country and a lot of times not considered Australian.”
The technical craft of hip hop music also had particular appeal. Lady Lash says:
Jimblah points out that there are also parallels between hip hop and Indigenous culture and storytelling:
Hip hop also gives artists the space to share their diverse interests and passions. Hau says:
But being a hip hop artist is not without tension and challenges. Mirrah, who was born Indonesian and African-American parents, was adopted by Australian-American parents and moved from America to Australia when she was 10 years old. She had a confronting start to her hip hop career when she 19.
“During the 90s, I wasn’t Australian enough because of my culture and accent. I grew up in the States - I have an American accent. People were like ‘you can’t be seen as an Australian act because of your accent. You’re trying to be a fake American’. I was confused. I felt disrespected and not wanted,” says Mirrah.
Thankfully, the Australian hip hop scene has evolved and includes artists from diverse cultural backgrounds.
For Mirrah, she’s made significant inroads for Australian hip hop through her work with Australian Sikh hip hop artist L-FRESH THE LION.
Hip hop has its roots in black history in America and continues to be a way to wrestle with ongoing race and social justice issues. The Thundamentals, released 'Ignorance is Bliss' a song about white privilege in October, which was used to raise money for the National Centre Of Indigenous Excellence.
“We want to try and push different perspectives and get people to think about privilege. It’s confronting but it’s also necessary. We should all be examining our position in society and whether or not we can be using our voices to try and address some of the inequality that exists,” says Jeswon from The Thundamentals.
For many hip hop artists, there’s a lot of meaning in encouraging younger generations to find their voice in hip hop. Jimblah has run numerous workshops around Australia and discovered his passion for working with youth.
“When we’re talking about a culture, which has gone through what ours has - a culture that has been stripped of identity and purpose, hip hop is something that empowers and gives the voice back. And gives the opportunity for people to celebrate their uniqueness and culture - whoever they are, whatever walks of life and wherever they want to be,” says Jimblah.
Mirrah is also a youth worker and feels that it closely connects with her work as a hip hop artist.
The ABC is celebrating Australian music in all its forms during November 2016. To find out more about #ausmusicmonth go here: http://www.abc.net.au/ourfocus/