Kicking cousins teach history through hip hop

March 10, 2012
Big Luke, left, and Darah
Big Luke, left, and Darah. Photo: Vanessa Morris for Sail Or Die.

When Aboriginal rapper Darah Morris uploaded his first music video, "Aboriginal Style", to YouTube, it became an instant hit. Then it got deleted.

"After 15,000 views on YouTube it got removed for 'inappropriate content', which I find really ridiculous," he tells Green Left Weekly.

It's a familiar story. South Australian Aboriginal rapper Caper recently had the video for his song "How Would You Like To Be Me?" banned by Facebook after a complaint, despite the song gaining high rotation on daytime radio.

A video recently uploaded to YouTube for Aboriginal rapper Little G's song "Invasion Day" was also reported by one viewer for "inciting hatred against white Australians". This is despite the fact the song had been played on Triple J for years.

But Morris, known simply as Darah to fans, was undeterred. He uploaded his video again and went on to record a whole album in the same vein. This included another radical video clip explaining Australian Aboriginal history to newcomers.

"'Australian History 101' is my favourite song on the album," he says. "It was really important for me to do this song because the history of Aboriginal people in Australia since colonisation was never taught in my school. I find that a lot of people have opinions but don’t actually know the history.

“So I am really trying to present a brief overview of the history so that people can be in a better position to really start to engage in dialogue.

"It’s not about pointing fingers or dwelling on the past ― it’s really about understanding the present. The first step to any type of conciliation is for people to understand exactly what has happened to get us to the current situation that we are in."

It's a history that so appalls Darah that he feels no attachment to the Australian accent. Instead, he uses an American vocal style he picked up after he spent some time living in the US.

"The English language and the Australian dialect was forced on our people,” he says, “so it really doesn't hold a special place in my heart like it does for some people.

"For me, the Australian dialect, much like the Australian flag, serves as a constant reminder that my people have been dispossessed, displaced and forced to follow the culture of our invaders.

“If I could rap in my native language I would, but aside from a few words, which I do use in my rhymes, my language no longer exists.

"The United States is definitely another colonial imperialist country with its own history of mass genocide and oppression both of the indigenous people and of the African peoples brought to the country as slaves.

"I would also note that Aboriginal people have had a long history of identification with the struggles of African-American people and also embraced transnational cultural exchange, long before hip-hop.

“So as far as the accent, while the African-American dialect may signify a loss of their original cultures for African-American people, for Aboriginal people embracing the accent along with the music is a way of embracing their struggle as part of our own struggle, while at the same time rejecting the immediate colonial culture present here in Australia."

However, he holds nothing against Aboriginal rappers who use an Australian accent, and has produced and released a storming album by one who does just that. Message From A Black Man by Big Luke sets biting, incisive Aussie vocals to Darah's heart-melting soul samples.

"Luke Edwards is my cousin," says Darah. "We have known each other our whole lives and we grew up together in Shepparton, Victoria."

Big Luke's height and looks resemble that of his father's famous brother, Kutcha Edwards. A tower of soul power, the award-winning Kutcha was chosen by journalist John Pilger to sing at his Sydney Peace Prize lecture at the Opera House.

But Luke had not developed his own talent, spending a couple of years "working down the mines in Perth", before his skills were picked up by Darah when he got him to help out with the chorus on "Aboriginal Style".

"At the time he didn’t have any intention of rapping," says Darah. "But after I did the video for the song we started getting a lot of really good feedback.

“I got Luke to do a couple more verses on the Aboriginal Style album that I was working on and, just getting more positive feedback, we went ahead and put together Luke’s album.

"For Luke, it wasn’t really like he was trying to get into the rap game. I just always wanted to hear him on a track 'cause he has such a strong voice and I know he has a lot to say. We just sat down and went through the beats and he picked out the ones for the album.

“I had one beat that I specifically wanted to show him for a song he had written and it was funny because when we were going through the beats he chose the same one. The song came out to be 'This Is A Message', and it was such a powerful song we did a video for it and everything really just took off from there."

On the song, Big Luke spits: "Look at these convicts selling our land, making it bank, we should roll over parliament in a motherfucking tank. I'm sick of seeing our people getting treated like shit, so you punks that are racist just get back on the ship.

“What do we want? Land rights! When do we want it? Now! What do we have? Fuck all, I'm gonna shout it loud."

Luke, who also raps about having friends of all races, tells GLW: "I was just getting some stuff off my chest, like Blacks fighting Blacks, being proud of your culture, racism, tribes fighting over land. Just a wide range of what goes on in the Black community.

“It’s just my views on things, just my outlook on life as I see it from where I’m standing."

Like Darah, Big Luke often references the black, red and yellow of the Aboriginal flag in his songs. Darah cites the flag's co-creator, Gary Foley, as one of his heroes.

"I would have to say Gary Foley is definitely a personal inspiration for everything he has done and for maintaining such a strong voice speaking out against the oppression of Aboriginal people," says Darah.

"There are so many people who have played such significant parts in our history, but you won’t learn about them in your high school history class."

High school history classes also won't teach that Big Luke's main inspiration, his uncle Kutcha, was named Indigenous Person of the Year at the 2001 NAIDOC Awards. He also won a Deadly Award for Male Artist of the Year the same year.

"He has been an inspiration to me since I was a little boy," says Big Luke of his relative, who was removed from his family as a child. "I have looked up to him not only as a singer but as a role model for all Aboriginal people.

“A lot of our elders paved the way for us and I am really thankful to them."

He pays tribute to them on his track “Elders”, which also features Darah’s other cousin, Cappa AK of The Egoz. The band was a founder of Payback Records, the Aboriginal hip-hop label started by Aboriginal AFL player for Essendon, Nathan Lovett-Murray.

But despite their elders teaching them life's lessons, Darah and Luke have forged their own path in music.

The pair have a real DIY ethic, putting together both albums on only a laptop and a USB mike in a no-frills approach that British political rapper Speech Debelle has called "Studio Backpack Rap".

They have also bypassed labels by releasing them straight onto the web as free downloads.

Says Darah: "It’s really important to me because a lot of times the voices of Aboriginal people and definitely Aboriginal youth in Australia are marginalised and filtered by the media and misrepresented to support the views of whatever writer or reporter is telling the story.

“So with the music we make, you are getting our voice straight from the source.”

And there’s plenty more to come.

"Right now I’m putting together a compilation/group album, South Side Kings, with some of my friends and family from Melbourne and Shepparton, so that should be available real soon,” says Darah.

“After that, myself and Big Luke are working on some new projects we are hoping to have done by July. The aim is really to constantly improve and just keep on moving to higher levels with each project.

“The first album, Aboriginal Style, was kinda like a warm-up and now we are ready to really get out there and represent and just take over."

Video: Australian History 101 - Darah (Australian Aboriginal Hip-Hop). darahmusic.

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