Blue King Brown (pictured) have are back on tour in January to promote their new album Born Free and just generally to spread the love with their fans.
The album, which was released in November, is a cutting-edge roots selection of tracks centred around the message of internationalism and the people of the world coming together to support social justice.
True to their signature sound, the Melbourne-based band combines catchy reggae with an underlying social message without ever alienating the listener. Born Free, however, tackles some of the more pressing issues the world must face — including the oppression of West Papuan people on the track “All Nations”.
The band is performing in Melbourne on January 15, Sydney on January 16 and Adelaide on January 17. Visit Blue King Brown's website for full details and tickets.
The band is offering Green Left readers three double passes to see these shows. So of you are in Melbourne, Sydney or Adelelaide and want to see Blue King Brown live, email email@example.com -- first in, first served.
Below, Green Left Weekly’s Jemma Nott spoke to Blue King Brown frontwoman Natalie Pa‘apa’a about their album and the struggles that inspire them.
What drew you to the issue of West Papua when looking to make this new album? Is this something you've always been involved with?
Blue King Brown have been involved in supporting West Papuan freedom for a while now, but more specifically in the past two-to-three years. We were initially made aware of the extent of human rights abuse and brutality happening in Papua by a close friend of ours who works with West Papuan musicians in Australia.
Having connected with some of the musicians and community and after hearing first hand stories on what was happening in Papua, there was no way we could remain silent about Indonesia's brutal occupation of a beautiful people and land so close to Australian shores.
The first action we did was at Womadelaide festival in 2011, where we had West Papuan musicians and dancers on stage with us. We then let one of the artists/activists speak to the crowd about his homeland and why he was unable to return there free from the threat of violence and persecution, we then held a big banner that simply said “FREE WEST PAPUA”.
We asked anyone who believed that human rights was deserved to all peoples, and to our West Papuan brothers and sisters who are struggling daily under violent oppression, we asked the crowd to raise their fists in the air in a show of solidarity with the West Papuan people.
We took a photo of that moment and it was the biggest
showing of support in Australian history for West Papuan self-determination. More than 10,000 people stood with fists raised in the air, sending a clear message to anyone and everyone who would see it and will continue to see that image.
Vitally, it is one of many images that bring hope to the people inside West Papua who have for so long felt like their screams for attention from the global community had been falling on deaf ears.
Images like that let them know that they are not alone — it's called hope and it is powerful. We continued to take those photos on tour in many countries and festivals around the globe. And we will keep putting the issue and reality of West Papua forward until they have the self-determination they're calling and fighting for.
In “All Nations”, are you calling on all the developed world to pay more attention to the issues of West Papua?
Yes. We are also calling out to all people from all nations to keep up the fight for a better world. To know they're not alone and to keep connecting with each other in order to accelerate the shift out of this outdated paradigm and into a new one.
We are alive in a time where we can’t be backward in coming forward. We cannot be apologetic about our morals, ethics or beliefs that the current world system in completely and utterly corrupt and can never serve the people in a way that actually serves the people!
So we sing about the issues facing our collective movement, we sing about truth and the need for us to educate and inform ourselves and each other in order to really learn about the reality of the world we're trying to grow in. And to remind ourselves and our listeners that another world is possible.
Freedom is possible. Justice is possible. The possibilities are endless should we stop putting our energy into trying to fix this fundamentally broken system and instead start to build new ones that serve us in ways that allow us to prosper and grow to our fullest potential — not hindered or tainted by narrow thought paradigms or colonial, capitalist mentality. Time for change.
What do you think it will take to get the world to gain more momentum in this movement?
It will take the ongoing words, action, art, song, stories, film, dance, movement, thought and determination from the whole spectrum of our community.
Right now there has been a significant lift in the amount of people around the world not only becoming aware of West Papua, but also building organisations and community groups that help to keep West Papua and West Papuan voices heard.
There are more films and documentaries, including Strange Birds In Paradise and Isolated that show aspects of the situation in West Papua. They are being seen by more and more people, check them out if you haven't yet.
The Free West Papua Campaign facebook page is also a great resource for staying up to date with what's happening on the ground in Papua and out in the international community. You will see just how widespread this movement has become and perhaps find where you might be able to help or contribute.
Recently, a historic and extremely positive and important event took place in Vanuatu. It was the first ever gathering of West Papuan leaders from all of the separate independence movement factions.
The aim of this historic gathering was to try to unite the struggle and factions inside West Papua and form a united front moving forward, to this end the gathering was a success! We are very happy and uplifted to share the news that the new Papuan independence movement body is called The United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP).
After the unification gathering, newly-elected ULMWP spokesperson Benny Wenda said: “We West Papuans are united in one group and one struggle now.” He has said that this was the most important gathering of West Papuan leaders since the struggle began 52 years ago.
We feel that this is a leap forward in the movement towards a free and independent West Papua. This, along with the continued campaigning and growing support from all areas of our international community, are key to bringing an end to the oppression and occupation of West Papua.
West Papuans are determined and are not about to give up the fight for freedom — not now and not ever, not until West Papua is truly free! And we will continue to support and amplify this movement in whatever ways we can.
Enough is enough and enough was more than 50 years ago when the brutality and genocide began in West Papua. Now more than 50 years later, we are appalled but not surprised by the inaction of governments near and far to put an end to the disgusting situation in Papua.
Every day West Papuans and other indigenous groups are without freedom is a day of diminished human dignity for the whole of humanity.
Music, specifically, is proving a great way of telling the truth about a government that suppresses it and we're seeing West Papuan artists do that a lot over the past few years. Is this one of the reasons you chose West Papua as an issue?
Music always has and always will be a potent messenger. We know how powerful it can be, as do governments and alleged “authorities”, as we've seen the persecution of musicians as part of many freedom movements throughout history including in West Papua.
Our two backing singers are sisters and daughters of the legendary August Rumwaropen lead guitarist and singer with The Black Brothers, who were one of the most popular bands throughout Melanesia.
The Black Brothers sang songs about independence and freedom. Because of this their lives became in danger and they had to flee West Papua and make a home where they and their families would be safe and free from persecution.
The Rumwaropen family was the first West Papuan family to be granted refugee status in Australia. The sisters I sing with carry on the legacy of their father and his music, the freedom fighting spirit and determination is in and with them.
When they sing on stage with us, they proudly fly the West Papuan flag and share part of their struggle with people from all around the world. They are not just raising their voices in harmony with mine, but they are representing the voices and calls for freedom of an entire nation.
For that, we are honoured and humbled to have them with us on stage and off wherever we trod throughout this world.
Through-out your album, you draw on topics like globalisation, solidarity and people power. Where did these themes come from?
The themes on Born Free come from the entire world of struggles we're aware of around the planet right now. We see that one struggle is connected to the next, just as we are all connected as a human family — a living family, connected with all that lives, breathes and shares this planet.
We see that the oppression of one people has an effect on all people. We know that the destruction of the Amazonian rain forests, the industrialisation of the Great Barrier Reef, or the onslaught of coal seam gas mining near and far, has and will have an effect on the health and well being of all of us, the environment we share and our collective future.
You've always made socially conscious music but this seems album seems to be a shift towards a more specific message. Is that true?
Freedom from mental slavery is a strong theme in this album. We're so over what this system has to offer — its false sense of reality that enslaves us mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
We see the effects of its rampant commercialism, development and so called “progress”, deteriorating the human experience of life. We are a much more powerful species than we've ever been led to believe and we now see the mass awakening underway.
The truth is the leader and conductor in this shift of times, we see those who speak and reveal the truth persecuted more than ever. We see the power of information in this age and the threat it has to the status quo way of living and dying by a corporate-run system that prioritises profits over people and environment.
The truth is what we are constantly trying to learn, embrace and share. We give ourselves and our art, music and words to this movement of truth. We can’t stop it, the future is calling us and we need to make sure we're present, alert and ready to serve it in the ways that have been bestowed upon us — whether that's thru music, logistics, organising, design, art, film, writing, blogging, sharing, screaming, dancing, cooking, cleaning...
Whatever we need to realise the power of the people, it's already in us, we just have to wake up and reclaim it, assert it and refuse to be a part of a system that doesn't reach the heights of our consciousness or conscious ability.
What first sparked your political agitation?
I think that growing up with a mother that worked closely with different Pacific Islander and Indigenous Australian communities and groups, set up a firm understanding in me of things like racism and injustice.
I questioned the disparity in society from a young age and wondered how some people could be so rich while others struggled sometimes constantly just to have enough to eat, and that was the reality in my neighbourhood.
I experienced and became aware and intolerant of racism from a young age. That is something that stays with you like a language or like realising Santa Claus isn't real, you don't forget these things and go back to believing, you learn and grow. I am still learning and growing everyday.
As long as we're learning and continuing to expand our knowledge and experiences, then we are moving and changing. And as long as we move and change with the times, then we're living and pushing the evolution of our kind further into a forward thinking paradigm and reality.
We are well and truly beyond relying on politicians to shift us forward in any and every sense of the word. I only tune in to see how ridiculous the policies and how to relate to people taken by their lies and bullshit.
Here and now we recognise our galactic environment, learn from each other what we're not taught in schools, dream beyond their confines of illusion and be ready to awaken our words into motion, movement!
You're about to take Born Free onto the road. How are you feeling about this?
We are all energised and eager to realign the music and the message on stage in the live format! Born Free has given us some great new songs to bring to life on stage, we're enjoying playing and arranging these new tracks and incorporating them into the Blue King Brown live experience.
You can expect the same high energy live show from us with some new sounds and some of the old favs as well. Sounds of summer, reggae and conscious music for the people!
The Sydney show is an All Ages gig — can you talk about the importance of your work in the context of youth?
Everything we experience in the early years of life, I believe has a significant impact on us moving forward and growing up into adults.
Remember your first ever concert?
I do, I remember music being a huge part of my up bringing and what connected with me on a level different to anything else. Music and the arts, in fact all creativity, is paramount in a healthy being, which is part of wanting to share our art with the youth, to create a space where they can experience something different than the day-to-day onslaught of corporate noise and imagery on their senses.
We see the youth as a powerful force for change if given the support, encouragement and truth to embrace and create new things, new thoughts, sounds, ideas. We are all capable of it, but raising the next generation of people who will ensure the struggle and movement continues and thrives is as much a part of the revolution, evolution, as all other aspects of action, activism that serves our collective future.
I've met some incredible young people, some as young as 11 and younger, doing important works in their communities, inspiring other children and even more adults. It's just something about hearing the truth from our youngest community members that puts a mirror in front of us and reminds of the simple yet undeniable reasons we must become truly responsible for taking care of the land and water — for ourselves, each other and our communities.
To the youth: keep stepping up, keep rizing up and inspiring us all!