I find it hard to believe that a year ago I was wandering the streets of Sydney and starting to get psyched up for a trip north to the Darwin Festival and its Santos-sponsored opening concert on the Esplanade featuring one of my all-time favorite bands, Nabarlek. But to quote another of my perennial choices, NoKTuRNL, “Time Flies.” This year’s show has been moved to the Garden’s Amphitheatre and features Troy Cassar-Daley, the Garrangali Band, The Neo, and Lorrae Coffin.
But what I wanted to share with you today goes back to Darwin in 2006, where B2M took the stage with Gurrumul. As always, I’m a little late discovering Aboriginal bands. B2M doesn’t stand for “Boyz II Men” (although it might): officially it’s short for “Bathurst 2 Melville” and it’s the first Tiwi outfit to make it into regular rotation on my iPod.
The band’s page at Skinnyfish Music, where you can pick up their debut, Live from the Monsoon Sessions Darwin, describes them as “6 young Indigenous men that sing about the issues facing all young people such as drugs, alcohol and suicide. Their music is an R ‘n’ B pop with a traditional kind of twist to it.” You’d think that made for grim listening, but in truth the effect is quite the opposite. Their clean, sweet vocals and gentle mix of acoustic guitar and electric keyboards instill a sense of peace rather than strife, and reflect the band’s penchant to accentuate the positive; they’ve just finished touring the Top End for the the Red Cross doing workshops on “youth diversionary activities in songwriting and performing.” Their big hit to date is “Mahlia,” which you can see them performing here on the Darwin Esplanade.
Borroloola’s Sandridge Band is another outfit that does a lot of public service work with their music, and I’ve been returning to their page on MySpace a lot lately to sample the variety of styles that they put out with the ease and grace of true professionals. The first tune that grabbed me was “Domestic Violence,” which I liked first not for its message but for the spooky way the guys spun from pop to disco to hard rock without letting you realize it. A similar mix of shimmering electronic keyboards and psychedelic guitar licks informs their exhortatory theme song, “Get up n dance” (“Get up an dance for us, cause we’re the Sandridge band and we’re playing for your people tonight”).
And like any decent Australian band, they can mix politics and reggae with absolute ease: check out “Australia,” from the Barunga Live 2006: Safe Tracks Home CD, or “Think about our Culture,” the title track from their 2007 debut album. (If anyone knows where I can get my hands on a copy of this CD, please let me hear from you.) They also have done a series of road safety spots, like this Drink Driving ad you can watch on YouTube.
While I was browsing YouTube, I came across a number of videos featuring the Last Kinection , whose anthemic “Still Call Australia Home” might just be the masterpiece of Oz HipHop. (There’s a cell-phone clip of this from a performance at the Red Rattler available, but the sound is abysmal, unfortunately.) The Kinection is working their way around the country now on their Propa Mad Deadly Tour (check the MySpace page for dates and venues). But back at YouTube, they’ve got a spooky, clever new video, “Balooraman,” up in the last month that you should definitely check out. The track is from their album Nutches, which is available in the US from Amazon (!) and in Australia from sanity.com.au.