Hip hop three-piece DEM MOB, originally hailing from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, played a scorching set at the three-day Spanish music festival.
From Pukatja to Barcelona: DEM MOB on stunting Primavera Sound 2023
Like the sweat sliding down the necks of the Primavera Sound Barcelona 2023 punters, MC Elisha Umuhuri is dripping in Aboriginal Australian swag. The young musician is styling an “ALWAYS WAS ALWAYS WILL BE” t-shirt with a bleached, plaited rats-tail curled around one ear.
This article first appeared in our 10 Years of CityMag, Spring 2023 edition, which is on streets now.
MC-running mate, Anangu up-and-comer Jontae Lowrie, covers his full head of black curls with a crisp New York Yankees cap. Ally and DJ Matt Gully – tasked with gassing up the duo with vocal and production support – wears an adjacent hip hop royalty garm, a “BARKAA” t-shirt, and Ray Ban Wayfarers. A “DECOLONISE” sticker covers his laptop lid.
The conscientious wardrobe styling signifies many things about the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands-based musicians. They are aware of the deeply wedded relationship between rap and fashion, and also the warm Mediterranean weather. Most importantly, though, their attire shows they are proud to brandish their identity, as members of the new political hip hop vanguard hailing from Australia, on their skin.
Akin to the classroom they first met in, they are at Primavera Sound Barcelona to school the growing cluster of international industry reps about songlines, rap and racism in South Australia, and how their music can rise above it.
Elisha says to a growing crowd gathering in the courtyard of the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, an arts hub located in the heart of Barcelona, they are going to spit bars about “what we experience on a daily basis” as Aboriginal men. “We speak candidly about our experience,” Jontae adds.
Despite the band’s repertoire, which often touches on white-knuckle issues such as Indigenous deaths in custody and poverty, the trio – the only South Australian contingent at the festival – are buoyed performing their 30-minute industry-specific set.
As they bust out their rollicking rap number ‘Dip’, they do it with so much gusto that the stage beneath Elisha’s white sneakered feet almost caves in. “This is why you don’t eat McDonald’s cheeseburgers,” the stocky singer says smiling between exasperated breaths.
Unlike the ticketed Primavera Sound portion of the festival at Parc del Fòrum, the inner-city, courtyard set at Primavera Pro is free. This accessibility means ratbag teenagers in fat Element skate shoes and dreadlocked women clasping small white dogs wander from the city’s Gothic Quarter to watch DEM MOB suck the air from the small plaza.
The crowd balloons as DEM MOB’s setlist grows taller. The venue’s mood changes from serious to upbeat when the trio play their single, ‘Soul Of The Lion’. The track features rapid-fire lines spoken in Pitjintjara and English over a bed of broken, funky synthesisers. Elisha and Jontae take turns with the verses, acting a coy call-and-response, offering their differing lyrical takes on how to battle the “haters” and the “clowns”. New here? Sign up to receive the latest happenings from around our city, sent every Thursday afternoon.
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Before the show, it is relatively unknown how receptive this crowd is going be to a band that fills their music to the brim with hyper-local stories and First Nations insight.
But, as if the crowd were doused in kerosene, the Spanish crowd is set alight when the band blasts their most well-known number, the politically charged ‘Still No Justice’, which was written two years after Aboriginal man Kumanjayi Walker was shot dead by Northern Territory cop Zachary Rolfe.
At the height of the political anthem, just after the police sirens wail and sampled news clips relating to high rates of Indigenous incarceration sounds, Elisha asks the crowd to thrust their fists skyward as a show of solidarity with First Nations people. Much like when DEM MOB asked the same at the WOMADelaide and SA Music Awards in Adelaide months prior, the Spanish crowd does as commanded.