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July 7, 2023

SA’s First Nations music gaining global interest

NAIDOC week is the perfect opportunity to learn about the growing demand for South Australia’s First Nations music talent, according to UNESCO Adelaide City of Music general manager Joe Hay.

  • Dem Mob in concert at WOMAD 2023
  • Words: Joe Hay
  • Photo: Samuel Graves

APY Lands artists Dem Mob’s recent showcase at one of Europe’s marquee music festivals and music industry events not only reflects the band’s exceptional talent, important message, and educational vision, but the growing interest internationally in the First Nations music and culture of Australia.

That showcase is a direct consequence of a visit in March 2023, facilitated by UNESCO Adelaide City of Music (ACOM) of representatives from Spain’s Primavera Festival and New York’s prestigious Lincoln Center of the Performing Arts to visit Adelaide and experience the state’s vibrant music and arts culture firsthand.

ACOM is now working with Lincoln Center on a potential Adelaide music, arts, and culture showcase in New York in 2024.

The beginning of what we hope to be a long-standing and mutually beneficial friendship, and an opportunity to strengthen relationships between Lincoln Center and its diverse range of programmes and creative partners, the 2024 event will focus on the State’s First Nations artists and productions.

ACOM has also been in discussions with other cultural festivals and music institutions in the United States, Canada, Korea, Morrocco, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and Austria.

All of these groups are keen to learn more about South Australian artists and to explore the possibility of ongoing relationships, from performance opportunities, to providing advice and mentorship to help develop professional and artistic capabilities for First Nations artists and music professionals.

While this interest is growing internationally, more and more talented First Nations artists are emerging and building careers in South Australia. The state has a rich music history to draw from, a strong contemporary First Nations music scene, supportive audience, and focused artistic and career development programs.

Acts such as Electric Fields are leading the way, signing to major labels and playing to football crowds to orchestral audiences and performing around the country and internationally.

Dem Mob have ignited an interest in Europe and have their eyes set on tackling the US and playing with their musical heroes.

Artists such as Tilly Tjala Thomas, Rob Edward, Nancy Bates, Vonda Last, and Nathan May have been making their mark and building devoted audiences where and whenever they play.

Fundamental to building audiences and providing experience and industry exposure to meet this growing international demand, Adelaide is home to a raft of international festivals and presenter organisations that support First Nations artists and culture.

The hugely successful, annual world music festival, WOMAD has also been an important platform to showcase the county’s First Nations artists and continues to provide opportunities for emerging and established South Australian artists.

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, too, has been a long-term supporter of First Nations stories and artists. Their latest Floods of Fire project performance Creation will take to the stage Friday 14 July.

A spiritual sound picture of Bundjalung history by CASM CO-Director Grayson Rotumah is a re-imagining of creation stories, spiritual, mission and massacre songs, as well as his own experiences and stories and sung and narrated in the Yugambeh language.

Producers and music professionals are essential to the health and sustainability of any music scene, the growth and support for First Nation music professionals is more important than ever.

Leaders such as Letisha Ackland of Balya Productions are showing the way.

Letisha has been working with festivals to develop essential capability development strategies and opportunities. Balya’s own Yabaardu festival in Ceduna on Wednesday 12 July is already shaping up to one of the must attend events in the state and will be an important development platform for regional and First Nations artists.

Supporting the growing international interest in First Nations artists and culture, the South Australian Government engages export agents and funding opportunities to help artists access some of the world’s biggest music industry events and networks.

UNESCO Adelaide City of Music is part of a large international network of cities committed to building international understanding through culture. ACOM is excited by the growing interest in First Nations artists and culture, and the opportunities this represents for the state’s growing number of talented musicians.

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