Verbal Reality Volume 2
Coming October 2013
Rapper Provocalz has dedicated a song to Australia's Liberal and Labor parties on his new album - but it won't be music to their ears.
On his track "Liberals or Labor", the Indigenous emcee suggests the two big parties are so contemptuous of voters that some, like him, might consider swapping their ballots for bullets:
Liberals or Labor, they both leave us to rot
So it's criminal behaviour, politicians get shot
Pop pop pop pop!
It's that real hip-hop, hip-hop
We on some real hip-hop
Provocalz is a provocateur - his name means "provoking vocals" - and he makes it his mission to get a rise out of listeners. "Sometimes you've gotta go to the extreme to provoke a reaction from people," he tells Green Left. And he goes further than most:
Catch me carving politicians' names on ammunition
And I don't shoot strays, aim straight at the system
With a pistol up close or through the scope at a distance
Put it in your dome, then I'll show you resistance
Parliament House I'll fucking burn it to the ground
Execution style, on your knees, turn around
The only good politician is a dead one, drowned
In their own blood, stabbed in the throat, no love
Plastic box cutter, run security checks
I'll go in for a handshake then stick it in their neck
Cos there's consequences to your actions, like death
No more doing what you please, time to pay your debts
And I ain't talking money, this is blood vendettas
For the deaths in custody, the pigs will never get us
Cos I'll go out in a blaze with a gun in my hand
Like so many before me, spill my blood on this land...
Asked about the lyrics, Provocalz is unrepentant. "Like I say in that song, there's consequences for your actions," he says. "Like death, which is going to the extreme. For so long they haven't had any consequences, so they don't care. Once they start getting shot and fucking murdered, I'm sure they'll think twice about what they are going to do. Blood for blood. You'll see me on the news."
He laughs. We are sitting in what Provocalz calls his "bomb shelter" - the garage-cum-recording studio of his rented family home in the army barracks suburb of Holsworthy, south-west Sydney. Behind him, a screen saver on his computer flashes the word "anarchist". On the wall is a poster of Al Pacino in a scene from 1983 gangster flick Scarface, his face contorted in a cocaine-fuelled grimace as he sprays bullets from his M-16.
Provocalz is folded into his studio seat, but his two-metre frame is still imposing. Our interview is being filmed for a DVD to be released with the album. The cameraman is his long-time friend, Gunsta of Hustle Hard Television, a hip-hop-hyping YouTube channel that has had 10 million views - and counting. The figures suggest Provocalz may be right when he says hip-hop is the best way to get a message across. "You can capture an audience with it, more than like a speech or something," he says. "All revolutions have always involved music."
Of course, Green Left does not endorse shooting politicians. It prefers social change to be achieved by ordinary people peacefully mobilising to fight for their rights. However, it is not hard to see why someone might write such a seething song.
Government policies have failed to “close the gap” in longevity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, instead keeping it wide open. Life expectancy in some communities is as low as 46. Black deaths in custody continue and Aboriginal jailing rates are soaring.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics says in 2011-12, the wealthiest 20% of households owned 61% of all household wealth - up from 59% in 2003-04. The Australian Capital Territory, home to Australia's federal politicians, had the highest level of wealth in the country, at 28% above average. The poorest 20% of Australian households owned just 1% of all household wealth. Economist James Galbraith notes that as economic inequality increases, voter turnout among the poor and working class tends to decrease. Queensland's Liberal Premier, Campbell Newman, plans to abolish compulsory voting. That will further lessen votes from the likes of Provocalz, who got his first fine for not voting last year.
"I fucking won't vote Liberals or Labor," he says. "What are they actually going to do for someone? They ain't gonna do nothing for no one. It's just fucking bullshit. More words on paper. Meanwhile, the Northern Territory Intervention's still going on, they're controlling people's fucking pay, they're doing everything up there. No one says shit."
Of the smaller parties, the Greens have vowed to end the Northern Territory intervention, compensate the Stolen Generation and enshrine a treaty in the constitution. The Socialist Alliance go further in explicitly calling for Aboriginal control of Aboriginal affairs, noting that "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continue to be the victims, not the creators, of the policies which affect them". The WikiLeaks Party looked promising, until it preferenced right-wing and racist groups ahead of Greens and socialist candidates.
As for the Liberals and Labor, Macquarie University politics lecturer Diana Perche says: "Historically, the similarities outweigh the differences when comparing the positions of the two major parties on Indigenous issues and the current policy approach is remarkably bipartisan."
Says Provocalz: "You get the choice of two devils, you get to pick one. It's not real democracy is it? It's just a way to keep the people quiet. 'We let you choose a leader every four years, stop complaining! Fucking hell, you chose this guy, it's not our fault he fucked you over!' At the end of the day they can't do anything really because then they'll get voted out or Queenie will come and kick 'em out, like [Gough] Whitlam. They really can't do shit.
"All it is, is words. [Kevin] Rudd comes in and then [Julia] Gillard's spewing that he's stabbed her in the back, and it's like, 'How the fuck did you get your job?' At the end of the day, they're all just mouthpieces, anyone could do it - you could put a fucking dog there and it would still be the same."
We're talking just days after Gillard and her dog, a pampered pooch named Reuben, took possession of a new $2 million beachside home along with Gillard's partner, Tim Mathieson. One actuary estimated the deposed prime minister's pension to be worth about $7.2 million. No longer having to keep up a working-class image, Gillard sold her $140,000 house in Adelaide's battler suburb of Altona and bought into the Liberal-held seat of Boothby. A neighbour told the Murdoch media: "I think most of the people here are Liberals. I think she'll be fine."
Provocalz laughs. "Yeah, there you go, free airfares for the rest of her life, fucking pensions and this and that. If they put politicians on the minimum wage you wouldn't see many of them fucking sticking around, eh."
But the rapper says Gillard's plush new pad could feature on his album. "The cover could be me wiping my arse with the voting slip, and then the back cover's just me shitting on her $2 million house's doorstep," he says, acting it out for Gunsta's camera. "Don't look at me! Just turn around!"
The pair collapse in laughter. Yet what is really needed is not less democracy, but more of it. The commonly held notion of democracy, in which people vote every three or four years only to see all their promises broken, is not the accountable version originally defined by the ancient Greeks - democratia comes from demos “the people” and kratia “power or rule”.
Provocalz laughs and shakes his head. "But back then too, it wasn't really like that either," he says.
Ancient Athenian democracy was democracy only for slave-owners. But today the public might be able to achieve more accountable democracy through technology, as parties such as Senator Online propose electronic votes to be held on each bill.
"Even that could be rigged," says Provocalz. He's right, of course - and for Aboriginal people, the problem is far deeper. On his new album, Provocalz raps about the constitution being changed by referendum in 1967, after which Indigenous Australians were finally included in the census and no longer classified as fauna:
Couldn't vote till '67
Still don't, fuck they elections
It's a sentiment often heard from the country's most marginalised people. Aboriginal Tent Embassy founder and sovereignty campaigner Michael Mansell has one explanation:
"To vote in Australian elections, you have to accept that you are an Australian citizen. I'm not. I'm a member of the Aboriginal nation... In the long-term, the participation in Australian elections, whether the people simply turn up to vote or whether they stand as a candidate in an Australian election, does have the effect of pushing Aboriginal sovereignty further and further away."
That's the last thing Provocalz wants.
"Look at 'civilisation' and what it's done to the world," says the rapper. "It's just fucked it sideways and we're the only people that have still got connections to land. Our whole culture's based on that. So we're the last thing left between us and the fucking apocalypse."
Such a statement brings a whole new context to his wish for voters to really call the shots.
"If you fuck people over, there's going to be consequences," says Provocalz. "There has to be."
Read an interview that ends with Green Left and Provocalz both being questioned by the police, here.