Renegades Of Munk
Renegades Of Munk
Released September 2014
Impossible Odds Records
Mark Munk Ross says he has learnt to make his music more appealing by injecting a big dose of humour into his hard-hitting songs.
"I try to make them humorous, which then makes it accessible to fans that might not be that political," says the man better known as Munkimuk, the "Grandfather of Indigenous hip-hop".
"But they are still digesting it, whether they know it or not," he says. "Smart game plan I think."
From an early age, Ross – who prefers to be known as Munk - learnt not to take himself too seriously.
"Put it this way - my name at home would be 'Dickhead'," he laughs.
It wasn't a pampered childhood. His father played rugby league, wrestled, rode motorbikes - and came very close to winning the Australian Speedway championship. But when it came to feeding his family, Munk's dad did whatever he could.
"A bit of a scrap metal dealer, a few odd jobs here and there," says Munk. "I think that's pretty up my alley in the way of ingenuity of getting by."
His Aboriginality comes from his mother, an athletic woman who was a hurdler until she had Munk, the eldest of three boys. His unusual-sounding moniker of Munkimuk - "just a bit of a play on my name, Mark Andrew Munk Ross" - resembles the language of his grandmother's people, the Jardwadjali.
"Jardwadjali is from down in western Victoria," he says. But his grandmother was raised in Junee, NSW. "Her father worked on the trains, so that's how I think he ended up from down in western Victoria up into Junee.
"It was around the Great Depression time, no one would pay. And the famous story is that they used to get the Aboriginal guys to go around and be the ticket guys, because they knew that they'd be getting into punch-ups all the time. It was a job that whitefellas didn't want to do."
Half a century later, little had changed in the way of race relations. So it was no surprise that hip-hop appealed to the young Munk partly because it had jumped the hurdle of skin colour.
"Back in '81 I'd seen Blondie doing her thing," he says. "That's the thing that people don't understand about hip-hop - the first fans of hip-hop were the punks. Punks were always looking for something new. So that's where you got Blondie doing 'Rapture', which is really a hip-hop song, she's rapping. And that was the first thing that got me excited, because I'd seen the graff, the colourful painting and all that sort of stuff and I'd just gone, 'Wow, that's pretty cool.'
"And seeing Malcolm McLaren do 'Buffalo Girls' - of course that had all elements of hip-hop involved - it had the graff, the breakdancing, it had the rapping, it had the beats, it had the deejaying - and he was the manager of the Sex Pistols. Of course you had Adam Ant doing rap as well. So those were the people that were taking hip-hop to the outside world."
Munk started out breakdancing, catching the train from his home in south-west Sydney down to the Opera House, carrying his roll of linoleum over his shoulder. He would throw down his lino with his friends and impress passing tourists with headspins, backspins, windmills and a unique, spider-like move that he still does to this day: "The clock - in which I basically run around myself."
When his friends found a power point they could tap, the breaking jams grew huge - and started to be raided by the police. To avoid the heat, the jams moved to Martin Place and started attracting thousands of people every weekend - until two crews got in a blue.
"Then the cops shut the whole thing and it turned into a riot because - you know, coppers turning up, all guns blazing," says Munk. "The next day in the newspaper they called it 'Ethnic riots in Sydney CBD' with no explanation of what was going on or whether it had anything to do with anything. You know how the media put their spin on a thing. So that kind of shut that down."
But hip-hop's ethic of being open to all elements had already taken hold of Munk. He was imitating the big-name rappers, but was still trying to work out how the music was made.
"You want to know how I got into making music? I reckon I spent a good two, three years from probably about '88 until '90 working it out," he says. "I went to my mate, he taught me how to play guitar and his name is Bassam Hassam - a Lebanese fella - he used to live down the road from me at Punchbowl. Bassam could play all the Midnight Oil songs and he showed me a few easy little licks on there. I was like, 'Man, that starts me off then, let's get this guitar thing happening.' I was pretty good at it. He was like, 'Man, you pick it up so quick.'"
Munk picked it up freakishly fast, learning bass, keyboards, drums - and how to manipulate a sampler with a scratch pad. Today, we are sitting in his home away from home, Redfern's plush Gadigal studios, a hermetically-sealed sound capsule where he spends most of his time producing bands. "Yesterday I did an interview while playing the drums," he laughs, pointing at the kit through the glass partition. Back in 1991, though, he was still being laughed off stage.
"Most of the places that I'd do these gigs were all African American guys, rapping. I was completely different because I was rapping in my own accent. They were like, 'Woah man, what's this? Hillbilly rap?!' So I thought, 'I'm not gonna go out there by myself and be the laughing stock. Next time I'm gonna go with 30 of my mates and we're all gonna go for it - and see who laughs then!' I had all my mates – including Big Naz, who's like 6ft 10 - and all of a sudden no one's complaining!"
The 30-strong crew called themselves South-West Syndicate and were soon invited to play a big gig - Hip-Hopera, at Casula Powerhouse.
"We ended up going to the gig at Casula and going, 'We're going to drive our car into the venue and we're all going to get out and then we're going to go on stage and we're going to do our song.' Big Naz got his big XD Falcon rolling in and we all rocked up and half of us came from the side of the stage and we just annihilated this gig. People were just raving, like, 'Mate, what is this?'"
In the process, the crew were also introduced to Tim Carroll, the director of Bankstown Youth Development Service.
"He said, 'How would you like to do what you're doing, but bring it to the youth centre and do it here? And we'll pay you for it.' I'm like, 'What? Pay us for it? Mate, you're on! So we started recording other artists."
South-West Syndicate ended up touring Australia for 11 years, with Munk honing his production skills as he recorded everyone from at-risk kids to established artists.
"So it took off from there," he says. "But people dropped off and filtered out and it ended up just being the blackfellas left! By about '97 it just became like an Aboriginal band. From there we were throwing traditional stuff into our shows and people were really interested in that, like 'Wow, this is something that we haven't seen before!' We'd incorporate traditional dancing, didge playing, clapsticks and we'd be doing our hip-hop songs, the singing and the breakdancing - it was like a complete experience."
When he was in central Australia working for the ABC's Triple J radio station, Munk also had an experience that would change his life and countless others.
"Vibe 3on3 had just started," says Munk of a sports workshop that was finding its feet. "They were doing their first event, which was in Alice Springs. There wasn't that many kids turning up, so I had a meeting with the guy that put it all together. I said, 'I'll bring you some kids here tomorrow, man. We've gotta add some hip-hop element in there and they'll all turn up.' Obviously, that evolved into what it became for all those many years - hundreds of events all over the country - a basketball and hip-hop thing."
The highly successful Vibe 3on3 events ended only after Vibe Australia had its funding cut by Prime Minister Tony Abbott's government in June this year, shattering its founder, Gavin Jones. A month later the 47-year-old Jones - whose organisation had also given birth to the hugely successful Deadly Awards and Deadly Vibe magazine - was found dead.
"With Vibe 3 on 3 and Triple J we'd be travelling to all these different communities where people weren't speaking English," says Munk. "English wasn't their first language and it wasn't their second or third language. I was like, 'Oh, wow. Man, this is kinda cool. I'm gonna learn some of this lingo and try to throw it into raps.' So I started doing that just to show the kids in these communities that, 'English isn't your first language, so guess what? You don't even have to rap in it! If you wanna rap in your language, just do it. Look, watch!' And then I started going round the different communities and everywhere I'd go, they'd go, 'Hey, lingo rap! Do the lingo rap!' All of a sudden I was known as 'the lingo rapper'."
He laughs. He'd picked up all the elements of hip-hop and he'd picked up all the instruments. Now, Munk began picking up all the languages with remarkable ease, even releasing how-to-rap books that included lingo.
"I think I pick up the language side of things pretty well," he says. "Everything's very phonetic. Once you know the phonetic side of things and what letters don't exist in different languages and what ones do and what sounds do as well, it's kind of very universal, I think, in all languages. I thought, 'Man, I'm rapping in all these other languages, I need to learn more of my own language.' So I got onto that side of it and started writing proper songs."
Munk raps in his own language, Jardwadjali, on his solo track as Munkimuk, "Shades of Grey". For Indigenous people living in a country that has broken world records in linguicide, it was empowering. But it had a bigger impact because Munk was rapping about his skin colour in his traditional language.
Since the first contact, between white and black
Whether right or wrong, liaisons were had
Decade after decade, babies were raised
These days Aboriginal comes in many shades
Gubbariginal, people unaware
Skin that is fair, blue eyes and blonde hair
By the 1900s, people of part decsent
Well their population growth was a problem so they said
Whitefellas in places were outnumbered
They wondered how they were gonna get the mothers
To hand over the kids that were forced, intimidated
Half-castes, quadroons, octoons were separated
Pre-assimilated, so it all began
To breed the black out of them, that was the plan
This was the government policy of the day
Now shades of grey will never fade away
These shades of grey will never leave this place
These shades of grey will never fade away
The song was a hit with fans. Brad Cooke, National Rugby League caller for the ABC and former manager of Koori Radio, still names it as his favourite song of all time.
Munk says: "You've gotta remember that even way, way back in the mid-1800s, in some areas of this country there were more 'half-castes' and 'quadroons' than there were white people - and that was a problem to the government at the time. So if that was a problem back in the 1850s, think of how that goes down the track, nearly 200 years later. If 'half-castes' and 'quarter-castes' are a problem, and they're outnumbering white people in many, many places, think of where all the descendants of those people are now - assimilated into white society, most of them."
So, the oft-cited figure of only 2% of Australia's population identifying as Aboriginal could be hiding a far larger figure, because a lot of people out there had forebears who did not identify.
"Yeah, of course," says Munk. "It's very interesting - and I've copped it from both sides of the fence. On the positive side there is blackfellas saying, 'Yeah man, you're like a role model for our community', and whitefellas saying, 'We're comfortable to learn off this guy about issues.' On the negative side, for whitefellas you're too black because of your thinking and for blackfellas you're too white because you don't look black. And if you're not comfortable being in that middle, you can take one side or the other. But man, I'm comfortable to roll in both directions."
Unusually, when it comes to colour, Munk's eyes can also roll in whatever direction.
"Yes, there are people that have no eye colour, like myself," he laughs. "When people ask for my eye colour or to write it down, I don't say anything. People say, 'Oh, you forgot this question.' I say, 'Nah, I didn't forget that question. I have hazel eyes, grey, blue and green and on a daily basis, it could be a different colour.' People that look in my eyes go, 'I'm sure you had green eyes the other day! Now they're like brown-grey, man. What's going on?'"
On his track "Mighty Rabbitohs", a fanatic's fanfare for the South Sydney Rabbitohs Rugby League team, Munk plays on the attribute by matching his eyes to the team's colours.
What you see is what you get
Look into my eyes, one is green and one is red
The Rabbitohs are based in Redfern, the political heart of Aboriginal Australia - and have a huge Indigenous following. To outsiders it may seem incongruous to see First Nations people plaster themselves in the team's emblem of a rabbit - one of the many colonial invaders that have vandalised their previously carefully managed land. But the Rabbitohs are said to have got their name when impoverished South Sydney players used to trap the animals and sell them for their meat and pelts. Often still wearing their team jerseys, they would copy the milkman's cries of "milk-oh!" or "bottle-oh!" with "Rabbit-oh!". The name spread like a plague. These days, when Indigenous people flaunt the emblem on their chests and shout the name to the skies, there may well be revenge in their hearts and resistance on their lips.
There has been plenty of Rabbitohs flaunting going on. We are talking just days before the Rabbitohs slaughter the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 30-6 in the NRL Grand Final - the Rabbitohs' first premiership win in 43 years. Yet Munk also shouts out the Bulldogs in one of the many passing sports references that shoot through his new album, which was recorded with what he calls his "live disco band", Renegades Of Munk.
Always in the middle of some controversy
Stuck in Cronulla in a Doggies jersey
"That, 'stuck in Cronulla in a Doggies jersey' was just the Bankstown, the Bulldogs team," he says, "and Cronulla, where there was riots with people that were coming from Bankstown."
In 2005, Australia hit world headlines when riots broke out in the the south Sydney seaside suburb of Cronulla between white racists and people of Middle Eastern appearance - many said to be Lebanese who had come in from Bankstown.
"It's just like a mad little pun in itself," says Munk. "So as you see, even with those songs that aren't about too much, and are a bit more fun and a bit more skill-based, I just slide that in! Have that one!"
The Renegades Of Munk album also makes light of Munk's skin colour, but is unlikely make anyone's skin crawl. Lines such as, "Here comes the brother that's looking like a gubbar", "No need to adjust your eyesight, I’m like Michael Jackson looking quite white", and "Well I don’t look black, fat or look back - the good fact is that I’m a Koori that can cook tracks", are more likely to raise laughs than hackles.
"Now, I'm at the point where I can make light of it in songs and enjoy it," says Munk. "I'll still throw in things that make it so that those little bits of political sarcasm are funny and I can just laugh at it and keep the whole vibe still fun."
Native American comedian Will Rogers famously said: "I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts."
But, of course, it's not as easy as that - especially when it comes to music. Munk's blending of politics and humour on the album is a rare accomplishment - and some lines even put listeners though the unique experience of laughing and wincing at the same time. "I'm out of control like a copper with a Taser", for instance, brings out a jolt of snorting laughter while conjuring up horrific images such as that of Kevin Spratt, the Aboriginal man who was tasered 13 times by nine police officers in 2010, or Sheila Oakley, the Aboriginal woman who lost her eye after being tasered by police this year.
But there are also moments on the album when the politics come unleavened, as in "Help Is On The Way".
There’s lying, there’s crying, cos residents are dying with Presidents trying to put the evidence behind them
I got no patience for intelligence agents, that are thinking that they’re replacing the United Nations
There’s millions waiting, as we’re taking it to the streets, while these creeps are headed straight to the beach
With their corporate sponsors, they got no conscience, while the rest of the world is getting slapped unconscious
"It's not a hidden track politically," says Munk. "Because it's one that we've thrown out there as a single. It's in your face.
"Of course, lyric-wise I have always been political and have always been a fan of politically charged music. I am a huge fan of bands like Midnight Oil, Roaring Jack, vSpy VSpy, Billy Bragg etcetera. So that has always spilled over into my raps. I think it was around 1997 or 1998 that I started performing at rallies and such for about 10 years. So not only did I like to write politically enhanced raps, but taking it to the streets and performing.
"Also I have been a huge fan of alternative media since I stumbled across it in the late '80s. I think I first came across Green Left Weekly by heading down to the Sandringham Hotel every Thursday night for Roaring Jack gigs and a bit of stage diving with a bunch of friends, which was a great place to meet and have a yarn to people."
But even "Help Is On The Way" has "a little punchline on the end of it", says Munk.
So if you’re tired of unscrupulous behaviour - and looking for a saviour, from Australia
Wait on, well this ain’t gonna take long - I just got to go and get my tights and cape on
However, the rare moments where the album does get serious are also its most sublime. They come in "Coast To Coast" and "What A Place", when Munk stands back in blissed-out awe at the beauty of his country.
"I've travelled all over the world, but I think there's places in this country that are the most beautiful places on the planet," he says. "Most things in this world are depressing. Look at the landscape of this country - that ain't depressing. It's like a work of beauty. It's an honour to even see it. It's about being respectful to the land as well. It's like your finger, it's like another extension of your body. So I had to pay my respects that way by doing a couple of tracks that talk about the beauty of this country."
It's a connection all but lost on the colonists. This year, Deutsche Bank pulled its funding out of a huge coal port expansion that threatens to destroy the Great Barrier Reef, yet Australia's banks and political leaders remained committed.
"I've been to places where mines have ripped up pieces of land," says Munk. "People have said, 'Oh we're going to go on this little tour of the mine now.' And I'm like, 'Nah, thanks.' So I'll be just there sitting under a tree while a whole bunch of people are going on a tour of mines and stuff. There's no way that I could even step foot in one. Even though I respect blackfellas that are working in those mines because they're earning themselves some money, it's not something I could do. I'd rather concentrate on the beauty of this country, because that just saddens me. Instead of doing a song about the destruction of the environment, it's more like, 'Man, look how beautiful it is and then people will say, 'Well, that's fucked! To destroy that landscape is just fucked up!'"
In the time scale of pop music, "What A Place" is as old as the hills. It rose up from the dust of the central desert 15 years ago, when Munk was spending time with country music legend and sometime Green Party candidate Warren H Williams.
"'What A Place' was a song that Warren and myself have had hanging around since '99, when I was there in Alice Springs doing stuff with Triple J," he says.
"Warren had his chorus and that's all we had at first, when we sat down together, and then he wrote the verses later and of course John Williamson did a cover of that song as well, it's in a few different entities. And Warren's always been like, 'Man, when's your interpretation of this song coming?'"
Munk used his "amazing" keyboardist John Gauci - a veteran Green Left Weekly writer and supporter - to reinterpret the song.
"Johnny plays beautiful piano and also does an electric piano part which gives the landscape feeling around the whole thing," he says. "With that electric piano doing the landscaping, it just sounds like you're out in the desert. It's got these eerie sounds that are going all across the song, that just sit over the top of the whole thing."
Munk says the big difference with Renegades Of Munk - a band made up of seasoned musos who have played with some of the biggest names in the business - is that they are creating "soundtracks to concepts".
"A lot of the songs that I get into usually start with a concept," he says. "Some people just make a song and make it about whatever. The music is a soundtrack to that concept. It's not, like, pick a beat and rap over it. Each piece of music is specifically written for the concept of what that song is about - that's a very important thing on the album. The music that's on there is soundtracks to the lyrics."
The lyrics are also pored over. Munk is a modest man, rapping that he's been "misled, never had a big head". Few would realise he plays drums on every track, along with keys, bass, horns and some beautifully fluid guitar, nor that he even did the album's artwork - a sleeve that could easily pass as a work by art activist Arlene Texta Queen. But he is uncharacteristically assertive about his poetry.
"The raps on the album show that you can be very technical and stay on subject, which is a hard thing to do," he says. "A lot of the guys that are very technical rappers and into the multi-syllable stuff sometimes stray off subject. Something that I'm proud of on that whole album from start to finish is there's a lot of tricky word play and multi-syllable stuff going on through the whole album.
"I'm not really into the one-word rhyme - the end-type rhymes. Even with that one, 'MisLED, never had a BIG HEAD, KIDS SAID that I'm excited like I'm BIG KEV.' That's two lines of a rap and it's got four double-syllable rhymes. I've put a lot of work into those lyrics. Most of those songs I'm writing five foolscap pages' worth of rhyming words on each line."
On the album's 12-minute-long closing track, the band have put just as much care into matching their music to the style of the 35 guest rappers - count them - on there.
"What we did was change up the groove with every rapper," says Munk. "Every rapper's got their own thing, so some of them break down to more reggae type stuff and some of them go full funk and then we strip it back for some."
The rappers also do a great job of staying on subject, spitting out references to Munk's long and colourful career, as in the line from western Sydney's Sesk:
Most Fly, Sesk, Munkimuk on your playlist
Pump it up loud and annoy all the neighbours
It's a tribute to the Indigenous Hip-Hop Show Munk has been running on Koori Radio for the past eight years, opened in the style of a manic horse-racing announcer and ending with the show's motto: "Pump it up loud and annoy your neighbours!"
Munk started the show after a collection of songs he recorded as a demo - called Ten Years Too Late - was seized upon as a real album and started getting radio airplay.
"I've always been involved with Koori Radio, since probably '94, '95," he says. "And people had always been in my ear, saying, 'Ah, you should do something on Koori Radio.' And it finally got to a time, after the whole South-West Syndicate thing, I'd been overseas and done a bit of freestyling around Canada and America and did some gigs over in Europe and Switzerland, places like that. But I came back from overseas with a little demo of a bunch of songs that I had - and it was always only meant to be a little demo thing, but then people jumped on it and said it was an album. To this day I don't really call it an album. But I got some airplay on Triple J and I got some airplay on Koori Radio and then a few people picked up stuff and then I got nominated for a Deadly Award for Song Of The Year for a song that was like a demo off a CD!"
He shakes his head and laughs, but the song, "Dreamtime", showed how appealing Munk could be with hard-hitting political tracks.
In 1967 we all got citizenship
But citizenship didn't mean shit
It didn't alter the persecution
Low living standards and prosecution
No solution, no revolution
The conclusion is confusion and we're the ones that's losing
It's a sad situation all across the nation
Only 2% of the total population
Over-representation in prison casualty
Of a higher rate of black deaths in custody
Once the corroboree's gone, we're finished
So the importance should never be diminished
Nor should the songs or the stories from the old days
We shouldn't have to surrender
Our culture or old ways
Total disrespect for our culture
In the meantime, I wish I could go back to the Dreamtime
"It was just like, 'All right, yep, it's an album now'," he laughs. "Even though there's some cringeworthy singing on there by myself, on that whole thing. But I was like, 'Oh, I'll roll with that.' But the general manager of Koori Radio at the time, Brad Cooke, was like, 'Come on brother, time to stand up for your mob, mate! What can we do for you to get you here and keep you here?' And I'm like, 'Well, I'm not really doing much. I've just come back from overseas, I've been recording my little bits and pieces and stuff like that, so yeah.'
"But then I went away and thought about it and went back and said, 'Mate I've got it. Look, for years, all these young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rappers have been giving me their demos - and guess what? They're sitting in my room doing nothing. So what I want to do is do a show, and I'm just gonna play 'em. That's it. I've got enough there to go for months!' It was more about giving mob a platform. Because at that time there was only the Triple J Hip-Hop show, which I'd been on a few times and hosted a couple of times. So I was like, 'Oh, man, I'll do one, because all these mob aren't getting a run.'
"There's so many people all over the world that take the show and so many stations take it here as well. It's on so many different nights on different stations. And the quality is fantastic isn't it?"
The quality is world class, yet it gets little attention from the mainstream music industry or media. It's a problem C-Roc of pioneering Aboriginal Hip-Hop group Native Ryme plans to address at a forum to coincide with the meeting of G20 leaders - dubbed the #Genocidal20 by Aboriginal activists - in Brisbane next month.
"The whole thing that C-Roc was going on about, I'm 100% behind that," says Munk. "Honestly, there's no band out there that's on the chart or out there in the mainstream that aren't paying a publicist, that aren't paying a management team. You've gotta have a booking agent for your gigs - if you're trying to book your gigs yourself, most of the promoters or organisers won't even talk to you. The publicity side of it is the same thing. And the reason why you see stuff in magazines and online music sites and 'Rolling Stone' and places like that, is because you're paying a publicist to do that and these places are only going to accept stuff that comes from a publicist - they're not going to accept stuff that comes from the artist.
"All these acts that are in the mainstream have got the management, have got the publicist, have got the booking agent, have got the record label - you won't get into the shop without a label behind you. And blackfellas don't have money for that. You've got to find enough money to eat yourself, rather than having to pay four people for your music career to exist.
"There has to be some sort of a solution at some point. It can't go on and on and on and on and on. Which is I think why it's good that people sit down and have a yarn and bring their thoughts to the table - there has to be some way that some of our artists can break into that."
Until then, the Indij Hip-Hop Show offers a vital lifeline in just getting the music heard. Munk finally relinquished the show on September 23, in typically modest fashion, playing down the fact that he was needing to spend more time overseas as his production skills were in demand. Asked why he never speaks of successes like the recent number one hits he produced in the Philippines, Munk says dismissively: "Ah, no one would believe me!"
As he handed the reins over to hand-picked co-hosts Renee Williamson and Frank Trotman-Golden, Williamson - a long-time journalist and blogger who has no fear of weighing into controversial topics - brought up the problem of hostility to Indigenous hip-hop.
"You know that old debate that gets brought up all the time," she said. "Do you have any kind of take on that? Because you get a lot of people in Oz hip-hop that kind of go, 'Ah, you know, don't rap about Aboriginal stuff because we don't get it and we can't understand it and we can't relate to it.' Or, 'It's too angry.'"
Munk replied: "I suppose in the past I've been a lot more political than the stuff that I'm doing at the moment and that's probably where doors have closed - many doors have closed over the years! And that's probably another reason why I started doing the Indij Hip-Hop Show is that so many doors close for our mob, you know, once they see that it's Aboriginal hip-hop or Torres Strait Islander hip-hop, or whatever you want to call it, doors just instantly close. But with all the new stuff, the Renegades stuff, I'm more in a band, so it's not just my thoughts any more. With the raps, I've still got the political puns in there, but I kinda make them funny in a way that people will nod their heads and go, 'Oh wow, that was pretty funny' - but once it sinks in and they actually think about it, go, 'Man that's totally messed up!'"
Williamson replied: "And I think that's part of your progression as an artist - you know, would you have been able to get to that point if you hadn't had such political content in the stuff that you'd done before?"
Munk replied: "No - and now I can just throw little political puns in every couple of bars and get away with it! I think it's very political in that there's a whole heap of little punchlines in there that go, 'Bang!'"
FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT
Below is the full interview transcript in which Munk talks more about the band, their label, his artwork, his family, politics and musical background.
* * *
Tell us about your childhood, where you grew up, who your parents were and what they did.
My name is Mark Andrew Munk Ross, actually. I was born in Sydney, in Marrickville. My grandmother's side, on my mother's side, was Aboriginal.
So you were raised from early on knowing about your Indigenous heritage then?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was more when we got to like teenage years, more to the point. We were always told to be proud of our Aboriginal heritage. I suppose as kids younger than that, you don't really understand much, do ya? In the way of anything, you're just cruising around and doing what you want - and trying to learn how the world works. I've got a couple of brothers, I'm the eldest. One of them's a schoolteacher, works out at East Hills Girls High, he's involved in all the Aboriginal programs that go on out there. My other brother, he doesn't do that much at all, he's a bit of a Shaolin, a martial arts expert. But he's been sick over the past however many years, so he's probably not that out there, out and about. He went to China and did some stuff over there, all that martial arts kinda stuff. My mum, originally, was like a hurdler. I'm told she was really good, until she had me. She was apparently a very, very good hurdler, running and athletics and that sort of thing. My uncle was a really good runner as well. I think he used to train a lot of the elite athletes as well. So I've got that athletic side - and then on my dad's side - he played a bit of footy and did a bit of wrestling and was also a speedway rider who nearly won an Australian championship! I think he retired the year before the guy he used to ride with won the championship. I used to go out there when I was a kid. I'd just basically go there and run around the Sydney Showground for hours at a time and not really pay attention to much of what was going on! Just run around and cause havoc and be out in the night! He was also into a bit of scrap metal stuff as well, a bit of a scrap metal dealer, a few odd jobs here and there. I think that's pretty up my alley in the way of ingenuity of getting by, to get some money into the house.
So your grandmother was Jardwadjali?
Yeah, yeah, she was brought up in Junee [in southern New South Wales]. And Jardwadjali is from down in western Victoria. Her father worked on the trains. You've gotta remember back then, with the trains, they'd had that gold rush and cherry picking and all that sort of stuff, it was around the Great Depression type time. All those cherry pickers and that used to go out and jump on the trains, so there were no fares or anything like that, no one would pay. And the famous story is that they used to get the Aboriginal guys to go around and be the ticket guys, because they knew that they'd be getting into punch-ups all the time. Once again, it was a job that whitefellas didn't want to do. Get them on the railways and give them a job - which is pretty good, back in the time when blackfellas aren't even citizens in this country. So he was part of the railway, so that's how I think he ended up from down in western Victoria up into Junee. There's a million and one of these stories out there in the world, people passing on stories like that. Like the history of Aboriginal music is amazing, and when I do tell people, they usually just freak out and go, 'Wow!' So in my teenage years I was throwing myself into two cultures, which would be the hip-hop culture as well. That started probably about '81 I reckon. I was like 12 or so. So I was throwing myself into being proud to be an Aboriginal person and that did come with a bit of stigma back then of thinking, 'Aren't Aboriginal people dark-skinned? We're fair, so what's up with that?' So as a young kid, there's that in your head as well, thinking, 'What's happening with that thing?' But obviously I immersed myself in hip-hop culture as well. Back in '81 I'd seen Blondie doing her thing. That's the thing that people don't understand about hip-hop stuff, is that the first fans of hip-hop - this is always glossed over and I'd be the first to tell anyone - the first fans of hip-hop were the punks. Because the punks had the CBGBs thing going on, the same time that Kool-Herc had the hip-hop thing going. They were obviously in the same city, crossed paths and they were both fans of what each other were doing.
And the punks were big Jamaican reggae fans, before hip-hop.
Yeah, you know what I mean. Punks were always looking for something new. So that's where you got Blondie doing "Rapture", which is really a hip-hop song, she's rapping, she's like taking - as a punk, being a fan of hip-hop culture, Deborah Harry's gone, 'I'm gonna rap, let's jump on this.' And that was the first thing that got me excited, because I'd seen the graff, the colourful painting and all that sort of stuff and I'd just gone, 'Wow, that's pretty cool.' Just on TV, on Countdown I would have seen it back then. From then, the next thing was a couple of years later - it would have been '82 or so - that's when they had more dedicated music shows, I think there was Sounds or something like that with Donnie Sutherland on Saturday mornings, you had a few different music shows then. I was always into watching it, music used to excite me when I was a kid. And seeing Malcolm McLaren do 'Buffalo Girls' - and of course that had all elements of hip-hop involved - it had the graff, the breakdancing, it had the rapping, it had the beats, it had the deejaying, it had the whole [thing]. And once again, people that don't know Malcolm McLaren, he was the manager of the Sex Pistols. So that was people that were taking hip-hop to the outside world, of course, as with racism and all that sort of thing, hip-hop probably was not really pushed outside of what was going on in America and because punks were onto it and the English scene is so close to New York - you know, it's basically just a trip across the ocean there - so the UK and that New York scene had it going on a long time before anyone else was onto it. So for us, being so far away from that whole demographic, in a world where there's no internet or anything like that, obviously stuff slowly filtered down into this country. So that was probably our first glimpse of what was going on in that whole thing- and of course you had Adam Ant doing a rap as well, he had a couple of rap songs on his first album. So the UK were onto that whole hip-hop culture before the whole rest of the world were. And at that time, the hip-hoppers' outfits, they'd just come out of the P-Funk era, where George Clinton and all these guys are wearing these crazy space outfits and Earth Wind & Fire and people like this are copying their thing and have got space suits on as well, because they're all in that funk genre. Hip-hop came out of that so if you go and watch the early Grandmaster Flash clips and things like that - look at the clothes that they're wearing - they're wearing space suits and crazy outfits - they're not wearing tracksuits and stuff like that. Then a lot of the people that were into the breaking - the stars of the popping and locking and all that sort of stuff, not floor moves, but...
It sounds like it appealed to you because it didn't recognise skin colour.
No, no it didn't, it was just like this whole new thing. I got into the breaking, first. When I was 13 or so I moved from Marrickville to Punchbowl, in the south-west of Sydney. There was another little young fella that used to hang out with us, we used to look after him and he used to always bug us to get him involved - and his name is Shannon Williams, otherwise known as Brothablack, he's like probably 10 years younger than us, so he was like a young kid that we used to look after. So me and Dax [of Black Connection] would have our thing going on because he was such a good breakdancer and we were both into the breaking and the graff side of stuff as well, which got that whole Punchbowl-Redfern thing going on. Then me and Dax started doing the rapping, I reckon that would be about '85. On a side note, I'm still friends with one of the guys from the Breakin' movie, Michael Boogaloo Shrimp, and he's very interested in how that breakdance movie influenced people in other countries. We were onto the music before the music blew up as well, which was when Run DMC did their 'Walk This Way' track with Aerosmith - all of a sudden rap music became accepted more in the mainstream here and everyone was into that because it had that metal thing going on as well as the rap. Me and Dax were already mimicking Run DMC songs before that. And also at that time as well, a very, very important thing is that there was other people around the city doing this stuff. When we were doing the breaking stuff back in '83, '84, you'd rock up to Circular Quay and there'd be a whole bunch of different breaking crews, who wouldn't go to school and would just go and busk down in Circular Quay. You'd take your lino, put it on your shoulder and jump on the train, cruise to Circular Quay, throw your lino down and battle or busk, and that brought with it meeting crews from out west such as West Side Posse. RUS, who's a very good friend of mine, he found a power point down at Circular Quay, 'Now we're cooking!' At first we'd plug the ghetto blasters in, but then as some of these events got bigger and bigger and more people would come down - about '83 '84 - RUS would bring a PA and decks and an amp and plug it in and the whole place would be just like, 'Mate, forget about the ghetto blaster, that's like a little transistor compared with a PA that's plugged in.' And then what happened then was it got so big that the cops would come around and shut it down. Next thing was that from there that whole Def Jam moved to Martin Place, we found a power point in Martin Place ad then it got bigger, it ended up being thousands of people turning up on a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday, until one day a couple of crews had a big blue then the cops shut the whole thing and it turned into a riot because, you know, coppers turning up, all guns blazing. The next day in the newspaper they called it 'ethnic riots in Sydney CBD' with no explanation of what was going on or whether it had anything to do with anything. Because local ethnic people were the ones that were into the hip-hop and were the majority of the crowd that were there for the jam, so that was the thing 'ethnic riots in the city - don't go into the city on the weekend'. You know how the media put their spin on a thing. So that kind of shut that down. But RUS has started that up again and that's been going again for the past year, under the same name, the Sydney Def Jam. We do it every two or three months down at Sydney Park in St Peters. It's also a really, really good thing for the old school guys to feel relevant as well in this climate of hip-hop, because most kids think that hip-hop in this country started in 2000 or something like that and there's no history before that.
They think it started with white hip-hop?
Yeah, they think that it pretty much started there.
You rap about being a disappointment to your family on your Slim Dusty cover, 'Biggest Disappointment' - tell us about that. I would have thought your family are proud of you.
Yeah, I think my family are proud of me, it's just like, see my dad was always a bit of a joker. Put it this way - my name at home would be 'Dickhead'. [Laughs.] Because of our socio-economic background as well, probably we weren't expected to make anything of ourselves. It's not like we were expected to become lawyers and things like that, it was just get by and do what you can do. I did that song really because it was one of my favourite Slim Dusty tracks - it is my favourite Slim Dusty track. Slim Dusty has always had an affiliation with blackfellas. He was the only guy back in the '40s that was going to Aboriginal communities and playing, he had a whole circuit - he'd do all the different outback towns - he'd make sure that the Aboriginal communities got some entertainment. We're talking once again about a time when Aboriginal people weren't even citizens in this country. So there's more than one reason why there's a Slim Dusty song on the album. Also Uncle Charley Boyter, who was his lead guitar player, is a blackfella as well. There's a whole heap of things that intertwine and go into that whole thing. Get this - you want to know how I got into making music? I reckon I spent a good two, three years from probably about '88 until '90 working it out. I got myself a guitar - this is a story that Rob Hirst from Midnight Oil loves - I went to my mate, he taught me how to play guitar and his name is Bassam Hassam - a Lebanese fella - he used to live down the road from me at Punchbowl. That whole Bankstown area has a very big Lebanese community. Bassam could play all the Midnight Oil songs and he showed me a few easy little licks on there, and I was like, 'Man, that starts me off then, let's get this guitar thing happening.' I was pretty good at it. So he was like, 'Man, you pick it up so quick, man.' But the thing is, then he went and got the master, his cousin, Fouhad! [Laughs.] His cousins Fouhad and Zihad used to play [Jimi] Hendrix and [Frank] Zappa and stuff like that, so they were like the next level of guitar and they gave me a few lessons as well. And then there was this other fella, Safwan Barbour, who knew every Metallica riff back to front and he'd know all that speed metal stuff and he'd be teaching me their stuff as well. So I was playing all that sort of stuff and then my other mate who was Safwan's mate Phil [Pelia], a Croatian fella, used to live in the flats underneath Ray from the Hard-Ons, who are quoted as being one of Nirvana's big influences. Of course, they were doing Nirvana-style music way before Nirvana were. Ray sold a bass to Phil, who then sold it to me - and that's how I got my first bass! [Laughs.] So I had a guitar, I had a bass and then I bought a little Casio keyboard, then after that I got a drum machine. I learnt how to get by on all these instruments, then it was like, what happens now? Because at school I'd never studied music or anything like that.
And you still can't read music?
Nah. Gimme a song and I'll listen to it and I'll learn it and I'll play it and show you how to play it, but ask me to transcribe it to music or read it off music and I'm like, 'Nah, you've got no chance.' But then I got a four-track cassette machine, but by mixing it down you could get seven tracks. It was like, fuck going to a recording studio - I'm not spending thousands and thousands of dollars when they've only got eight tracks anyway. It was all just self-taught, trial and error. From there I bought a sampler, that was my huge step - that would have been 1991, I think. I got it imported from Italy - it was a [Roland] DJ-70. But the DJ-70 also has a little scratch pad on it, like a little turntable. So I was like, 'Now we're fucking cooking!' I was also getting a reputation as a freestyle rapper while I was doing all this music stuff. And then I got a few shows, by myself. I ended up just doing spoken word, like rapping. Then I worked out that I'd have my drum machine with me and have the presets that I programmed and just let the beat play. So I did that and it was pretty bodgie! [Laughs.] Most of the places that I'd do these gigs were all African American guys at these gigs, rapping. I was completely different because I was rapping in my own accent. They were like, 'Woah man, what's this? Hillbilly rap?!' [Laughs.] So I thought, I'm gonna bring all my mates with me, which is how the whole South-West Syndicate thing came about. I thought I'm not gonna go out there by myself and be the laughing stock, that whole being laughed off stage, man - been there and done it. I thought, next time I'm gonna go and I'm gonna go with 30 of my mates and we're all gonna for it - and see who laughs then! I had all my mates, including Big Naz, who's like 6ft 10 - and all of a sudden no one's complaining! And then young Shannon Williams was asking if he could join in and we were like, 'the more the merrier!'
You ended up touring Australia for 11 years though with South-West Syndicate, right? From 1992 to 2003?
That was the thing. There was still the whole army of us around '95 I reckon, but after a while it probably wore a bit thin with a whole heap of the guys. Some people went off the rails and off to jail and others were like, 'I've gotta make a living, I'm gonna go and be a panel beater bro.' So it ended up with just a smaller core of us then. Another guy Mohammed, he got shot in the head and he'd rock up in his wheelchair and he was in the crew as well. So we did this big Hip-Hopera show. This other guy I know from the boys in Auburn, Khaled Subsahbi - otherwise known as Peach, a rapper in a crew called COD - he said, 'I've been looking all over for ya, searching the streets for ya, I've got this thing on over at Casula Powerhouse.' He said, 'There's a catch, man - you've gotta do these workshop things.' So we rocked up to the youth centre in Bankstown and that's when I met this other guy who was running the youth service there. His name's Tim Carroll - he's still there today, out there at Bankstown - and he said, 'How would you like to do what you're doing, but bring it to the youth centre and do it here? And we'll pay you for it.' I'm like, 'What? Pay us for it? Mate, you're on! So we started recording other artists. That Hip-Hopera gig - we rocked up and we just drank, when others were rehearsing. We ended up going to the gig at Casula and going, 'We're going to drive our car into the venue and we're all going to get out and then we're going to go onstage and we're going to do our song.' Big Naz got his big XD Falcon rolling in and we all rocked up and half of us came from the side of the stage and we just annihilated this gig. People were just raving, like, 'Mate, what is this?' From there that's where we met Ebony [Williams] and Danielle [Tuwai], who then joined our group. So it took off from there. But from there, people dropped off and filtered out and it ended up just being the blackfellas left! Me, Dax, Brothablack - and Nadeena Dixon was with us then as well. Her partner at the time, Les, was playing didge with us. By about '97 it just became like an Aboriginal band. From there we were throwing traditional stuff into our shows, a lot of didge playing, a lot of traditional dancing and people were really interested in that, like 'Wow, this is something that we haven't seen before!' We'd incorporate traditional dancing, didge playing, clapsticks and we'd be doing our hip-hop songs, the singing and the breakdancing - it was like a complete experience. So that was that whole South-West Syndicate thing!
You rap about your skin colour: "Here comes the brother that's looking like a gubbar / I’m like Michael Jackson looking quite white / Well I don’t look black, fat or look back / blood the colour of Pepsi." Want to talk about that?
Yeah, I always like to play on it, like in this day and age I'm comfortable with who I am. There's always going to be people that will question who you are and all that sort of stuff, or just antagonise for the fun of it. You're always going to get these people in your life. At first it bothered me, for the first... month! [Laughs.] But then I got over it because I've always been the type of person that doesn't really care about much, anyway - in the way of, like, anything. I've seen plenty of things in my life - my life's been an action adventure movie at times, so there's not much that can rattle me. That rattled me for a little while until just after talking to some other people that were like, 'Nah man, don't worry about what anyone else is saying, you just do what you do, you're representing our mob and you just do that. Do that!' So now, I'm at the point where I can make light of it in songs and enjoy it. It's enjoyable and something I can play on and I'm into it! I'm totally into playing on that! [Laughs.] That's the other thing, is people like [musician] Roger Knox, he sat me down one day - back in the South-West Syndicate days - and was like, 'Mate, if you've got an ancestor that's Aboriginal, you're Aboriginal.' And a lot of Aboriginal people will tell you exactly that same thing. 'You're either Aboriginal or you're not.' There's no, 'I'm one-sixteenth Aboriginal.' And there can be people that have Aboriginal blood that don't identify as Aboriginal. They can be from the same family - and in Tasmania, that's rampant. There's families that are Aboriginal and they've got brothers and sisters that will say, 'Nah, nah, nah I'm only one-thirty-second Aboriginal, so nah, I'm white.' So you can have people that are brother and sister that will argue.
It will have changed over the years as well, in terms of how acceptable it's become to identify.
Yeah, of course. Whereas people will identify now, 60 years ago - when Aboriginal people weren't citizens, they were flora and fauna in this country - to get ahead and actually make some money, if they were fair-skinned they didn't say anything, they didn't walk around saying, 'I'm Aboriginal.' Then again, there were people that were fair-skinned that were on the missions that were identifying as well, so it's not - pardon the pun - a black-and-white thing. It's not like you can generalise on anything. You've gotta remember also that even way, way back in the mid-1800s - half-castes, and they'd call it 'the quadroon problem'. In some areas of this country there were more half-castes and quadroons than there were white people - and that was a problem to the government at the time.
When were you born, '68?
So, two years after Aboriginal people were granted citizenship.
So think of that - if that was a problem back in the 1850s, think of how that goes down the track, another 150 years later, nearly 200 years later. Just in the way of people, if there was like, in certain areas, if half-castes and quarter-castes are a problem, and they're outnumbering white people in many, many places, think of where all the descendants of those people are now - assimilated into white society, most of them. Because it's only been the last 50 years that people...
So there could be a lot of people out there that don't know they're blackfellas because their forebears didn't identify.
Yeah, of course. Once again it's not a general thing, it's like a whole up-in-the-air thing. It's an interesting topic, it's not like it's not interesting at all! It's very interesting and I've copped things from both sides of the fence. On the positive side there is blackfellas saying, 'Yeah man, you're like a role model for our community', and whitefellas saying, 'We're comfortable to learn off this guy about issues.' On the negative side, for whitefellas you're too black because of your thinking and for blackfellas you're too white because you don't look black. And if you're not comfortable being in that middle, you can take one side or the other. But man, I'm comfortable to roll in both directions. I'm into educating whitefellas about our culture. I'm into being a positive role model for our people. I've also copped it on the chin for being too... each to their own you know what I mean? If I'm too fair for blackfellas to identify with, I'm down with that. And if my politics is too black for whitefellas to deal with, I'm down with that as well. So I'm down with all of that!
Down like a road spike. [One of Munk's lyrics.]
I'm down like a road spike! [Laughs.] So I'm down with all of that, so that whole issue, I think, that covers that whole topic.
That explains the hater references on your album!
The other side of it as well is the whole hip-hop thing. One thing that is lacking these days is what [comedian] Sean Choolburra would call - we had a yarn the other day about 'pure hip-hoppers'. These days, someone's either an emcee or a graff artist, or they're a breaker, or they're a deejay. But back in the '80s you did it all. If you were into hip-hop, you did all that. But these days, people try to perfect one and only stick to one element... Look at West Side Posse - Rosano and Kode Blue, they made Sound Unlimited Posse, who were the first Australian Hip-Hop act to be signed to a major label, signed to Sony in 1989. For all you people that think Australian Hip-Hop started in 2000, there was actually a band that were on your Video Hits, they were signed to Sony, they put albums out and they came from that whole thing where those guys that were in that group were actually breakers, they were part of that whole hip-hop culture. They were signed to Sony before half these kids were born.
Going back to the skin colour thing, your eyes also change colour, as [your sometime radio co-host] Odessa noted.
Yeah, when people ask for my eye colour or to write it down, I don't say anything. People say, 'Oh, you forgot this question.' I say, 'Nah, I didn't forget that question. I have hazel eyes, grey, blue and green and on a daily basis, it could be a different colour.'
My son is the same [I'm white eastern European/Anglo Saxon, his mum is Tamil]. It seems to change with the clothes that my son wears.
Yeah, people have said that - and sometimes, people have said it's mood. So apparently there's a whole heap of different things, but yes, there are people that have no eye colour! [Laughs.] Like myself! I don't think there's even such a study or anything like that on it. Yeah, people that look in my eyes go, 'I'm sure you had green eyes the other day! Now they're like brown-grey, man. What's going on?' [Laughs.] So many times I get asked, 'Oh, do you wear contacts?' I'm thinking, 'Mate, I wear glasses. No, I don't wear contacts at all, or I'd be wearing contacts and glasses at the same time!'
You rap: "The first to ever rap a verse in lingo, impressed Ernie Dingo, dragged through the window." Tell us about learning your language - you also created language books and CDs for kids with the publisher Indij Readers - and you speak four or five languages, right?
Yeah, but once you stop speaking some you start to lose them, which is really hard. Another thing that I was instrumental in doing was the Vibe 3 on 3 basketball and hip-hop stuff. We used to travel round to heaps of different communities. Actually, at that same time I was also travelling with Triple J, back when they were very community friendly and they had money. That was back in the [former Prime Minister Paul] Keating era. I got to travel around a lot of desert communities and that helped me out as a producer as well. So I got access to recording Nabarlek Band and all these other desert bands that I would never have had a chance to. I got to hang out with people that were like idols. You know what I mean, 'I've seen you guys on TV and stuff!' [Laughs.] One day when we were in Alice Springs with the Triple J workshops that we were doing, Vibe 3 on 3 had just started - they were doing their first event, which was in Alice Springs. There wasn't that many kids turning up, so I had a meeting with the guy that put it all together. I said, 'I'll bring you some kids here tomorrow, man. We've gotta add some hip-hop element in there and they'll all turn up.' Obviously, that evolved into what it became for all those many years - hundreds of events all over the country - a basketball and hip-hop thing. So with Vibe 3 on 3 and Triple J we'd be travelling to all these different communities where people weren't speaking English - and English wasn't their first language and it wasn't their second or third language. It was like, 'Oh, wow. Man, this is kinda cool. I'm gonna learn some of this lingo and try to throw it into raps.' And then just hanging out, like, in Alice Springs for a month and just getting enough words in the vocab to be able to, like, kick some verses and even do them in full language was like, 'All right, man.' So I started doing that just to show the kids in these communities that, 'English isn't your first language, so guess what? You don't even have to rap in it! If you wanna rap in your language, just do it. Look, watch!' And then I started going round the different communities and everywhere I'd go, they'd go, 'Hey, lingo rap! Do the lingo rap!' [Laughs.] All of a sudden I was known as 'the lingo rapper'. I was kind of uncomfortable with that as well. I was like, 'Ah man, I'm a bit more than a lingo rapper, man!' Once again I copped that on the chin and it was just like, 'No worries.' Because it's good to be able to show people that you don't have to rap in English. So that kinda got me into that, and then getting more into my own language as well. I thought, 'Man, I'm rapping in all these other languages, I need to learn more of my own language.' So I got onto that side of it and started writing proper songs.
Were you taught Jardwadjali by elders?
A lot of the western Victorian languages are very, very similar, with Jardwadjali and Djab Wurrung and there's Wemba-Wemba - all these languages are pretty much the same language. So there is resources and it's very easy to find people that know this language. So yeah, I was lucky enough to sit down and also get myself my own personal little dictionary-type thing as well that was given to me. So I started writing stuff in my own language which was much more satisfying than just doing a couple of verses in other people's languages.
I'll have to track down the couple of books that you did with Indij Readers [Raps 4 Big Fullas and Raps 4 Little Fullas] and stick some of that in the interview.
All right! [Laughs.] On that one, I don't know how accurate that one is! [Laughs.]
You must have a natural ability for languages - I learnt French at school, which was easy, as English is 70% French because England was invaded by the French. But I find trying to learn Dharug a lot harder and I have to come up with outrageous visualisations and mnemonics to do it because it's so far removed from English.
No, I think I pick up the language side of things pretty well. Obviously now with doing stuff overseas and stuff I pick up their languages pretty quickly as well. So I think I've got a natural thing going on with the language thing. Everything's very phonetic. Once you know the phonetic side of things and what letters don't exist in different languages and what ones do and what sounds do as well, it's kind of very universal, I think, in all languages. English is probably the hardest language on the planet. There's so many words and so many meanings - there's one meaning and you'll have 10 words for it. In a lot of other languages there's one meaning for one word, which makes a lot more sense! [Laughs.]
Tell us the meaning of your name, Munkimuk.
Good question. It comes from Mark Andrew Munk Ross.
That's the name on your birth certificate?
[Laughs a long time.] Yes.
Where does the Munk come from then?
[Quietly:] Don't ask me.
But Munkimuk is a bit of a leap from that.
It's a bit of a play on my name.
It sounds very Indigenous.
Yeah, pretty much, it was just like a word play on my name.
But now you've dropped it?
Well, I suppose it's like people always get me confused with Monkey Marc, who is like a Welsh guy, he's like a producer who also travels to Aboriginal communities and does stuff. I dunno, I think that's how he got in there! People thinking that he was me! But anyway! People have told me, 'Oh yeah that's how that guy got in there because people thought he was you and then like...' So I'm sick of people going, 'Oh, did you produce this? Or do that?' And I'm like, 'No, man, I record bands and that sort of stuff man, I don't - he does a lot more techno dance type music.' Of course he's in another crew called Combat Wombat with Elf Tranzporter and Izzy as well. A girl called Izzy - not Izzy! There you go there's another one so they've got a Monkey Marc and an Izzy! [Laughs.] And none of them are Aboriginal! [Laughs.] We need to find an Aboriginal Elf Tranzporter and we can make our own black version of Combat Wombat. [Laughs.]
Where did this "grandfather of Aboriginal hip-hop" tag come from that you don’t particularly like - did it start as godfather?
Oh, look, I don't know where it came from, I have no idea. It either came out of ABC, the Triple J thing or... I think I prefer grandfather rather than godfather. I think godfather is more like The Godfather movie or something. A godfather in a traditional sense is someone's uncle that's not related to ya!
There's so much bravado in hip-hop - the less rappers have to say, the bigger the ego - but you are very modest, rapping: "Well I’m misled, I never had a big head." Tell us about that.
Even with that, something that I am proud of on this album, moving on to the Renegades stuff, is that I think the raps on the album show that you can be very technical and stay on subject, which is a hard thing to do. A lot of the guys that are very technical rappers and into the multi-syllable stuff, because that’s like hard work in itself, sometimes stray off subject, it is really hard. And something that I'm proud of on that whole album from start to finish is there's a lot of tricky word play and multi-syllable stuff going on through the whole album. I'm not really into the one-word rhyme - the end-type rhymes. I think that nearly every song is very technical and even with that one, 'MisLED, never had a BIG HEAD, KIDS SAID that I sounded like I'm BIG KEV.' That's two lines of a rap and it's got like four double syllable rhymes. Even with 'Shit Hits The Fan', it's 'Concerned bout long term wrong turns confirmed by songs learned from German girls with blonde perms', which is just like, 'on erm on erm on erm on erm' without a break, it's just like bam! Take that one! [Laughs.] But with the big head thing, I'm not - I just do my thing, I'm not a big talker about myself, I just do what I do - and I don't do it for any other reason than I'm wanting to do it myself. And with that, once again, just like the skin scenario, is that there's people that love my music and are totally into it, and I'm down with that. And there's people that don't like what I'm doing at all and hate it - I'm down with them just as much! Because everyone's got their right to an opinion and if people aren't into my stuff, good on 'em! I applaud 'em! Just as I applaud anyone that's into it. With that said as well, in the way of gigs, I've played some pretty big gigs over the years in the way of big festivals and other bigger gigs. I would rather not play to 20,000 people that are jumping up and down bobbing their heads, not caring what you're saying. I would rather play to five people in a room that are hanging off every word and enjoying every part of it. For me, playing to 20,000 people is like the negative. I think if you've done it and you've played to, like, a mass of heads, I remember when I'd done that and just gone, 'Man, that wasn't like what it was all supposed to be. [Laughs.] That was fucked.' No one was really into it, they were just like bouncing around in their own world. It's like a sea of faces and I'd much rather be in front of five alert people - or two alert people - that are really enjoying it - it excites me. Yeah cos everyone's got an opinion - and no one's opinion is right or wrong. There's billions of people in this world and everyone’s an individual and there's no such thing as someone that's right or wrong.
The people that most fascinate me are the people with the total opposite politics to mine. I'll learn more from a neoliberal that knows what's going on in the world than I will from 100 liberals who don't.
Well there you go. I get ya.
This album has a real longevity...
Guess what? You're not the first person that's told me that this week.
Do you think that comes from the music being live?
Yeah, the whole thing with this was to make quality music. It's not about anything other than making quality music. It's probably not as political - the album's probably not as political as stuff that I've done in the past, as in-your-face political type stuff. I think my theory - even there's still a whole heap of like political puns and it always touches on all this political type stuff, a lot of the punchlines you can relate to different political things, but it's a lot less in your face. And it's probably more for the fact that I was making all this other music and I was getting depressed - I was depressing myself, making songs that were talking about the topics of the day and if you do look out on the world, the world is a depressing place.
I always want to slit my wrists after subediting Green Left Weekly.
[Laughs.] Well, you know what I mean - the world is a depressing place. So the whole concept was like, 'Man, let's make something that's like, fun!' I could make more but I don't want to depress myself any more. I'll still throw in things that make it so that those little bits of political sarcasm - I would call it, that are in there - are funny and I can just laugh at it, but keep the whole vibe still like fun!
It's not an easy thing to do, like Frank Zappa said, 'Does Humour Belong In Music?' Because it's so hard to pull off.
I think, lyric-wise, I pull it off pretty well.
The line about the copper with a taser will make you laugh and wince at the same time.
Yeah, yeah, yeah! [Laughs.] With that comedy as well, to be able to put that in and have that multi-syllable thing going and all that technical rhyming, I've put a lot of work into those lyrics. It's not like I just wrote the things and then that's it. You know, most of those songs I'm writing five foolscap pages worth of rhyming words on each line, so I'm putting a hell of - because I do get to travel a lot, so I like to spend my time doing that. You know, let's just focus on this rhyme scheme, let's just, like, get a few pages and then I can pull the good ones out! [Laughs.]
It's good to hook people in with the fun side and then hit them over the head politically.
Also, it's not just me as well, now. When I started out and I started doing the rhymes it was just me, but now all of a sudden it's, like, in 2012 this band formed and I'm part of it - it's like I'm only one of the members of the band, even though I wrote all the chords, I wrote all the music and the lyrics it's like, man, really these guys are a part of it just as much as I am and they probably love the band more than I do. So it's not just me and I think all of us together, we've got like a good vibe as in I think the chemistry of who we are and - because everyone who's in the band has had success in other bands. They've been there - done that - Dave used to play in Earth Wind & Fire! And then was in Divinyls and to this day he plays in Angry Anderson's band or John Steven's band, all these. Every day, he's got a drum session on, he used to be the drumming teacher that teaches pro drummers more tricks. So to have that guy on board is an honour. And the thing is, he used to harass me all the time, ringing me up every day, going, 'When are we doing this thing?!' I suppose that's where I'm kind of like a bit humbled in a way, that a guy like that would be ringing me on a daily basis saying, 'Come on, mate, I've got you off the fucking lounge!' Got me out of producing. And he did - he's, like, geed me up and got this band going.
On Coast To Coast you rap:
Till such time as the dream is unlocked, take the time to just stop, think of the natural beauty we got
Now not later before it's all lost, world heritage listed, mission to the street block
Soaking up my time on this land before it goes, linking up with my brothers rolling coast to coast
Tell us about that.
No, because it's not mine! That's Fred [Leone]'s line! [Laughs.] With that song, I wrote my verse first, which is the last verse, all right, and then Fred wrote his, and he was like, 'Ah man, you've made it extremely hard for me to do this song, man. And then by the time Jimblah got his, because he's always, like, late at doing everything, he's got many things going on and he's not the quickest writer, and when it got to Jimblah, he's like, 'Man, youse have left me nothing.' He goes, 'Youse have covered everything, man.' He goes, 'This is fucked.' But I thought what Jimblah brought to the table was pretty damn good, seeing that we had everything else covered. The whole thing just sounds like a Midnight Oil song, so it's even better, obviously with me being a big fan. As I said, Bassam Hassam, the first thing he ever taught me on guitar was [Midnight Oil's] 'US Forces'. So to have [Midnight Oil drummer] Rob [Hirst] and all the guys actually happy to be part of that - and to me it sounds like a 'Power and The Passion' type song, it's got that 'waaoh woooo--oh' he just sings on there, so it's got that whole Midnight Oil feel about it and I think we specifically went for that - 'Let's make a Midnight Oil song.'
I love "What A Place" as it reminds me of Kulgera [in the Northern Territory]. I got a real profound feeling there, but it must mean so much more to you. You've been all over the world as well as Australia.
Yeah, I've been all over travelled all over the world, but I think there's places in this country that are the most beautiful places on the planet.
But it must mean so much more to you, because you belong to the land.
Having that connection with the land, yeah. There are a couple of songs that are on that tip. It's about being respectful to the land as well. It's like your finger, it's like another extension of your body. And for things to be so beautiful, people might think, like I said, most things in this world are depressing. Look at the landscape of this country - that ain't depressing. It's like a work of beauty. It's an honour to even see it. So I had to pay my respects that way by doing a couple of tracks that talk about the beauty of this country. 'What A Place' was a song that Warren [H Williams] and myself have had hanging around since '99, eh - when I was there in Alice Springs doing stuff with Triple J.
Was there a particular place you were thinking of when you wrote that?
No. Warren had his chorus and that's all we had at first, when we sat down together, and then he wrote the verses later and of course John Williamson did a cover of that song as well, it's in a few different entities. And Warren's always been like, 'Man, when's your interpretation of this song coming?' He's bugged me for years and years and years and get this! I'd already started that album, I had all them collaborations and I didn't have it on there! [Laughs.] I'd kind of forgotten about it! [Laughs hard.] And then I was like, 'Ah shit.' And I've seen Warren and he's gone, 'Man, when are you gonna do this song?' And I'm like, 'Man I'm doing an album right now, all right, come on, do it, brother.' But then I wanted to take it away from guitar-based as well, what he was doing. So of course, Johnny [Gauci] plays beautiful piano and also does an electric piano part which gives the landscape feeling around the whole thing. With that electric piano doing the landscaping, it just sounds like you're out in the desert. It's got like these eerie sounds that are going all across the song, that just sits over the top of the whole thing. And the best thing that I love about it is that I've got my Mark Knopfler impersonation going on! I was thinking like Brothers In Arms type guitar playing, I was, like, I like that song, that Dire Straits track, and I was like, man, it'd be great if I could ever play a song where I could play like a bit of guitar like that on it and then that song gave me an actual opportunity to do that lead guitar bit. And really, I play the bass and lead guitar on that and that's cool. I was so happy that I got to do that - that was like a highlight, or one of the highlights, of the album for me, to play that lead guitar bit - and make it up, as well, not just, like, play it. You're gonna listen to it when you go home now.
I can listen to it on my phone because it's on Spotify and I've got a Premium account. I still buy albums because Spotify pays artists peanuts - but I still haven't received the CD copy I bought from JB Hi-Fi.
Apparently heaps of shops have sold out this week. With that, we've go a chance of getting on the charts this week. I've been out and bought a few copies! [Laughs.] So have heaps of people that I know, but I think we've got a good chance of getting on the charts this week. Even if people give me albums, I still go out and buy them for the sake of supporting - and it's a chance that they could chart.
Getting back to the environment - what are your feelings on the destruction of Australia?
I've been to places where mines have ripped up pieces of land people have said, 'Oh we're going to go on this little tour of the mine now.' And I'm like, 'Nah thanks.' So I'll be just there sitting under a tree while a whole bunch of people are going on a tour of mines and stuff. There's no way that I could even step foot in one. Even though I respect blackfellas that are working in those mines and stuff like that because they're earning themselves some money, it's not something that I could do. That should show you where my feelings are at on that whole environment thing. And I'd rather, once again, concentrate on the beauty of this country, because that just, like, saddens me.
It saddens me because what attracted me Down Under, apart from the fact I hate Britain, is the beauty of the landscape.
Ah, that's why you like them songs!
And I just think this country would be so much better if the traditional owners were in charge.
But once again as you see, like everything on this album, we try to keep things positive.
Well that's you, you always look on the bright side.
I'd rather concentrate and tell people how beautiful the place is. Even on that destruction side, people go, 'Oh wow, that's so beautiful, why would you want to...' Instead of doing a song about the destruction of the environment, it's more like, 'Man, look how beautiful it is and then people will say, 'Well, that's fucked! To destroy that landscape is just fucked up!' So I'd rather do it in a positive light with what's going on there, explaining it that way.
On Help Is On The Way you rap:
There’s lying, there’s crying, cos residents are dying with Presidents trying to put the evidence behind them
I got no patience for intelligence agents, that are thinking that they’re replacing the United Nations
There’s millions waiting, as we’re taking it to the streets, while these creeps are headed straight to the beach
With their corporate sponsors, they got no conscience, while the rest of the world is getting slapped unconscious
Tell us about that.
Yeah that's me - it's not a hidden track politically, because it's like one that we've thrown out there as a single, so it's not like it's buried behind all the fun tracks, all the disco tracks, even though it's got a pretty damn good disco groove in it. But yeah! It's in your face.
What subject were you getting at with those lines?
General, general. My politics in general. My thoughts, my politics in general on the whole scope of things. And it could be - and it's not - it's world politics, it's Australian politics, it's everything. It doesn't matter who you are or where you're from, this is what I think of what's going on, so cop that! Then I throw a little punchline on the end of it...
I'm going to put my tights on.
[Laughs.] Yeah! Throw a little punchline on the end of it to make it funny and people can - yeah, I think that's probably the most hard-hitting verse in the way of politics, I think on the whole album, for me, anyway. And just having the other two guys on there is political in itself as well, I think.
You've got L-FRESH...
Yeah, and Luka [Lesson] which - man, just ever since I first seen that guy I've been such a big fan. He's very political in a lot of the stuff he does in his poetry slam stuff. And L-FRESH of course, man, he's on fire! He's not your conventional-looking Australian hip-hop artist is he? I'm a huge fan of L-FRESH. He's not just a good artist with some really good things to say, he's also a top guy as well.
A 24/7 activist, really.
Yeah. So to have them guys on the track is pretty cool - and then politically speaking, seeing as it's probably the most political Renegades track, to have those guys in it is a pretty good choice.
A big difference in Aboriginal culture is respect for elders. Is that what you were getting at in the song 'Older & Wiser'?
A lot of the songs that I get into usually start with a concept. Some people just make a song and make it about whatever. The music is a soundtrack to that concept. It's not, like, pick a beat and rap over it. Each piece of music is specifically written for the concept of what that song is about - that's a very important thing on the album. The music that's on there is soundtracks to the lyrics. So every story that's being told on that album, there's a soundtrack for it. John [Gauci]'s keyboard playing of course, sets the tone for the whole thing.
John's an amazing musician.
Ah, he's just - he's been there done that, for many years, you know. He's been in big bands, he's played the big arenas, he's done the whole thing. Like everyone in this band, we're all at a stage where doing it isn't about being famous or making a whole heap of money out of it or anything like that. It's all about, let's make some good music.
On 'Shit Hits The Fan' you rap:
How would you be dealing with these Howards and cowards and showered with abuse for hours and hours
Whatever it is that I’ve done wrong I’m sorry, it’s like I got some ummm target on my forehead
Tell us about that.
Well get this one - that, there, is a six-syllable rhyme!
That's why I can't do it.
[Laughs.] That's the one song where I'm just going to show extreme skills. There you go, I just lost my anti-big head statement. [Laughs.] Most of the lines have got that syllable scheme going on. There's not just two or three words rhyming at the end like a lot of the other stuff. There's, like, six words that are rhyming, and the next line, the same six words will be the same set of syllables. So it's like a skill survey!
The surprising thing is that you're rapping about having haters.
Well, a lot of it's just about shit, really, isn't it? Shit Hits The Fan! It's a fucking shit song when it comes down to it! It's the shittest song on the album! Nah, I've tried to have plenty of funny things in there as well and a few puns in there, like the 'stuck in Cronulla in the Doggies jersey'.
Sport is littered throughout the album.
Ah, nah, just with that, 'stuck in Cronulla in a Doggies jersey' was just the Bankstown, the Bulldogs team, and Cronulla, where there was riots with people that were coming from Bankstown, it's just like a mad little pun in itself. So as you see, even with those songs that aren't about too much, and are a bit more fun and a bit more skill-based, I just slide that in, bang! Have that one!
You also rap about having haters:
Haters are on a need to know basis, I’m in more strife than an episode of Chaser’s
War On Everything
More hater references!
Where are all these haters coming from?! I think you're just looking for anything that sounds like I've got haters!
I'm just surprised that you have haters.
Well, a lot of that is just passing into the rhyming schemes as well.
Tell us about Mind Your Own Business:
Anyone would think that I was making porn, anyone would think that I got paid by Melbourne Storm
Anyone would think that my shit stinks, anyone would think they’re blaming me for what their kids did
Anyone would think that I was rolling round in pig shit, anyone would think that I was having sex with midgets
Did that, did this, pucker up and kiss this and stick this (Where?) mind your own business
Where did the sentiment for that come from?
Well, the whole concept of the song is 'mind your won business' and I'm just going hard on the mind your own business thing. But you see all those rhymes, they all rhyme with business, even if they're vague rhymes - thing is, with a lot of my rhymes, they're sound-alike words, they're not like exact rhymes.
Tell us about the album artwork - it looks like it's by Arlene Texta Queen.
But who did it?
Ah really?! Oh, it's cool!
I haven't done artwork for so long - and my expertise when I was young, was drawing cartoon characters of people, to the point where every day I'd get the cane at school. Because what I'd do is I'd draw caricatures of the teacher on the desk - ON the desk, like draw it on the desk - all right? - and it would look exactly like the teacher - and the teacher would be doing odd things like having sex with sheep, all sorts of animals, and there'd be a lot of sexual connotations going on and I'd be getting thrown out every day and getting the cane six times! So they were the best years of my cartooning skills!
It must have brought back painful memories as you were doing it, oooh.
[Laughs.] But I thought that, 'Ah, man, I can finally have a go at drawing something.'
Yeah, I used to do all the signs on the graff stuff and all that stuff, so I was like, man this will give me a chance to, like, do some drawing, man!
You're signed to Impossible Odds Records - tell us about that decision.
Yeah, there were a few other people that were interested in releasing our album, but I had a bit of a yarn to Fred [Leone] and he was like, 'Who's putting the album out, man?' He was running through a few of the other labels that he thought would be doing it. And I was like, 'I haven't decided who we're going to go with yet, man. We've been talking to a few people.' And I said, 'How's your thing going?' And he goes, 'Man, I'm starting to get a whole heap of bands on' and this and that, and I go, 'Actually man, I'd rather go with an Aboriginal label.' And he's like, 'Man, I'm here. It would be an absolute honour and a privilege to put this out, man.' So I was like, 'All right, let's do it, I haven't signed anything with anyone - let's do this.'
It's great that he's also signed Vietnamese artists and so on.
Yeah! On his label he doesn't have just Aboriginal artists, he's got people from other cultures that are on the label.
Because it's Aboriginal-owned, it hints at what C-Roc from Native Ryme was perhaps getting at when he recently set up his hip-hop forum about the industry and its neglect of Aboriginal artists. That post of his and all the commentary under it reminded me of what's been said about ghettoes in the US since the 1960s, that white businesses are taking all the money out of them and what's needed is a black economy.
Yeah, nah, that's what I mean. I'm definitely down with that because - I was going to talk about this at some stage anyway, the whole industry versus the artists. It's not the same thing. A lot of people get into the music and think that people are going to listen to their stuff or buy their stuff or whatever, without knowing that much about the industry side. It's like the whole thing with music, the advent of laptops and anyone can make music, you know what I mean, there's not that whole structure there of people knowing how it works. Honestly, there's no band out there that's on the chart or out there in the mainstream that aren't paying a publicist, that aren't paying a management team, there's no one that's self-managed that's out there in the mainstream.
Because it takes a lot of time.
Nah, you've got to have a management team. You've gotta have a publicist. You've gotta have a booking agent for your gigs, if you're trying to book your gigs yourself...
There's no time to write music.
Well, it's not even that. It's not even that. Most of the promoters or organisers won't even talk to ya.
You know what I mean? Unless you're going through a booking agent. You know what I mean: 'We'll only talk to a booking agent.' So if you're not paying a booking agent to book your gigs, you've got no chance of getting a gig. So there's that side of it. The publicity side of it is the same thing. And the reason why you see stuff in magazines and online music sites and things like that - 'Rolling Stone' and places like that, is because you're paying a publicist to do that and these places are only going to accept stuff that comes from a publicist - they're not going to accept stuff that comes from the artist. So there's that whole thing of all these acts that are in the mainstream have got the management, have got the publicist, have got the booking agent, have got the record label - you won't get into the shop without a label behind you. And blackfellas don't have money for that. You've got to find enough money to eat yourself, rather than having to pay four people for your music career to exist. And these people don't do it for nothing. They expect a wage. If they're not going to make money out of you, they're not going to do it. They've got another 10 bands that want to give them money. So unless you're in there...
And there's always the racism element, that they won't take a punt on an Aboriginal artist due to that fear that people won't buy it for that reason.
Well, that's the thing - so even before any other issues, is that. It's the industry side compared with the artist side. The industry couldn't care less about the artist. It doesn't matter who you are. Look at those TV shows - you know what I mean - I don't watch em!
Yeah you do! I've seen your Facebook updates!
[Laughs.] I don't watch these TV shows, these Idols etc etc. All right.
I thought you did?
[Laughs.] With those, it's all a record company thing. They already know who's going to win. They've already got a shortlist. Guess what - things like The Voice, there's the people who get on there and audition that come from the street, but they're never going to get past a certain stage. The people that get past that certain stage are the people that the record company already have selected and use that show as a vehicle to promote their artists, because they're in cahoots with the television stations. If I wanted to go on there and promote my band on one of these commercial television stations it would cost me, for a half-an-hour ad - and these things go for hours on the night - if I wanted five minutes on there it would cost me a million dollars. Where these guys are all in cahoots with the station, they're all making money out of it through sponsors and sponsorships and all that sort of thing, through people voting on phones and all that sort of stuff - they're all in on it. I wouldn't say it's a rort, because it is what it is. And if you're going to go on those shows, you've got to know what you're in for. What you're going in for is not going there and seeing if you're an artist or whatever, or if you're good enough to make it. It's nothing to do with that. It's like all you are is cannon-fodder for these record companies that have already got their artists selected and are ready to - and with that people say, 'Ah, but the public votes.' But usually they push and publicise the ones that they want more. Cos they don't just want one of them, it's not like they've got one artist that they want to sign and they're gonna win, it's nothing like that. They've got their six artists, all right, that they're interested in - and they don't care who wins out of those six artists. But those six artists are their people already. They've got them all ready, ready to roll.
And the rest of it's just a freak show really.
Most reality TV is taking the piss out of working-class people, basically.
Yeah, very much so. So going back to the whole thing that C-Roc [of Native Ryme] was going on about, I'm 100% behind that. Our artists, who don't have a concept of all this industry stuff and have not got the means to pay these people to promote and get the stuff out there and get into the mainstream, there has to be some sort of a solution at some point. It can't go on and on and on and on and on. There has to be some point where there has to be some sort of game plan. Which is I think why it's good that people sit down and have a yarn and bring their thoughts to the table and find some sort of game plan. I'm no expert - I've been in the industry for years and I'm not any expert on how to do that. All I can say is that's how the industry works, there has to be some sort of game plan where it's - I don't know, I don't know - there has to be some way that some of our artists can break into that.
Or do their own thing and look internationally.
Yeah, well, that's the next thing, that this country has such a small population - why stop here?
And also there's more interest overseas - I think.
Mate, there's 25 million people here in this country. There's 35 million in Bangkok! One city! [Laughs.]
I love the 12-minute closer on your album [featuring 35 rappers]. Tell us about putting all that together.
I've got more verses. There's like a whole heap of more verses, with a lot more predominant emcees as well.
It actually feels like a three-minute song.
Yeah, cos that's what I thought at first - I thought, 'This is gonna be boring as batshit! It's gonna be like, oh man, who wants to hear 35 rappers one after the other?' At the end of the day it's interesting though! At the end I thought, 'You know, this is actually quite interesting!' It's good that the band, what we did was change up the groove with every rapper. Every rapper's got their own thing and we swapped the groove we were playing in the band, when every new rapper starts. So some of them break down to more reggae type stuff and some of them go full funk and then we strip it back for some rappers. So there's that, but there's also, like I said, there had to be a cut-off point. There was never going to be that many people on it. How many people are on it now was not the plan. It started out [as], 'Oh, we'll get a few people to jump on a track.' And then people kept hearing about it through other people and this and that. I asked a few people to jump on it.
It's great that there's a gender balance on there as well. I think my favourite line is Sesk's when he says, 'Turn it up loud and annoy the neighbours.' [A reference to one of Munk's lines on his Indij Hip-Hop radio show.]
[Laughs.] Yeah, true!
It's a toss up between that and [MC Dukebox's] 'enormous is what you get when you Google my cock'.
[Laughs.] Duke was a bit worried about that one! But it's a good line - I was like, 'Nah, man.' One of my favourites is Big Naz, the big Lebanese fella from South-West Syndicate, he goes, 'Buy me a carton and I'll disappear like Osama Bin Laden'!
I love Sesk's line about dropping bombs like the Taliban, because it's a real up-yours to the establishment.
Yeah, and I think Sesk's right after him, or before him. They kinda knew each other.
You're handing over the Indij Hip-Hop Show eight years after you were talked into doing it - they kept pestering you to do it, right?
Ah, kinda, no - they hassled me to do *a* show. I've always been involved with Koori Radio, since probably '94, '95. And people had always been in my ear, saying, 'Ah, you should do something on Koori Radio.' And it finally got to a time, after the whole South-West Syndicate thing, and I'd been overseas and done a bit of freestyling around Canada and America and did some gigs over in Europe and Switzerland, places like that, where I met a lot of my good friends from overseas - like when I was in Canada I was hanging out with a couple of my Filipino mates who are good friends to this day and I'm definitely in cahoots with them in the music industry over there now! But I came back from overseas with a little demo of a bunch of songs that I had and I ended up spending a bit of time recording - got back here and started recording them and got them together - and it was always only meant to be a little demo thing, but then people jumped on it and said it was an album! To this day I don't really call it [Ten Years Too Late] an album! It was more like a demo of a bunch of songs. Yeah, but out of them obviously came some airplay - I got some airplay on Triple J and I got some airplay on Koori Radio and then a few people picked up stuff and then I got nominated for a Deadly Award for Song Of The Year for a song ['Dreamtime'] that was like a demo off a CD! [Laughs.] But with that said, once again, I didn't argue. It was just like, 'All right, yep, its an album now.' Even though there's some, like - what would you call it - cringeworthy singing on there by myself, on that whole thing. But I was like, 'Oh, I'll roll with that.' Nah, that was really good, but once I came back, I did that, and the general manager of Koori Radio at the time, Brad Cooke, who of course calls the NRL games for ABC now, the NRL caller, he is! And of course you see him on NITV, he hosts a whole load of things on there as well. He was like, 'Come on brother, time to stand up for your mob, mate! What can we do for you to get you here and keep you here?' And I'm like, 'Well, I'm not really doing much. I've just come back from overseas, I've been recording my little bits and pieces and stuff like that, so yeah.' But then I went away and thought about it and went back and said, 'Mate I've got it. Look, for years, all these young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rappers have been giving me their demos - and guess what? They're sitting in my room doing nothing. So what I want to do is do a show, and I'm just gonna play 'em. That's it.' And that's what the show is! The show is gonna be all the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rappers that have been giving me their demos over the years! I've got enough there to go for months!' And it kind of breaks the stereotype as well, that Aboriginal music is all didgeridoo and clapsticks. We do more than that. We're in metal bands, we do folk music, we're across all these genres, man. A lot of people have this thing that if it doesn't have didgeridoo and clapsticks, it's not Aboriginal music. But no, if it's an Aboriginal person doing music, it's Aboriginal music. So yeah, and the quality is fantastic isn't it?
Yeah, and like I think I said the first time I met you, it's also been a real education for me as well, because there's so much depth in the lyrics and they've got so much to say.
Yeah, no, it was more about giving mob a platform. Because at that time there was only like the Triple J Hip-Hop show which I'd been on a few times and hosted a couple of times, and that was before the Indij Hip-Hop Show. So I was like, 'Oh, man, I'll do one, because all these mob aren't getting a run, I'll just give them a run on this show. This is the show!' Oh, it's massive. Even, like, there's so many people all over the world that take the show and so many stations take it here as well. It's on so many different nights on different stations.
And you got a big boost with the ABC taking it for NAIDOC week.
Yeah, yeah. And just all the other - being on the community radio network every Friday night as well.
So it was already all over the place!
But yeah that was...
So are you training [the new show hosts] Frank and Renee to do the horse racing announcement [the manic style in which Munk opens his Indij Hip-Hop Show]?
That's what everyone's question is! I'm waiting for Renee to, like, start going off! I'm thinking I might have to stick her finger in the power point! Charge her up! [Laughs.]
You're also very careful with your choices, I think, on that show, you always go for stuff with knowledge in the lyrics.
Yeah, well, the thing is, because it's on so many stations, the swearing is hard work. You can't - people know that if you've got swearing, you're probably not going to get a run on that show.
Tell us about the future of Renegades Of Munk - are you touring overseas?
I'm more taking off overseas because I've got, like, a lot of production stuff going off over there. Renegades is more what I'm coming backwards and forwards for. So we've got like a tour through October, November. And of course the album's now out, we've got plenty of video clips that we've either done and are about to be released or that we're filming. So I think nearly every song on the album will have a clip. You don't get away with it that easy! [Laughs.] So nearly all the songs will have clips, if not all. We've started writing our new EP, which is quite interesting because, as - well, that was the next thing, was, is our band really hip-hop is probably the other question that's been floating around the last couple of weeks. Are we more like The Cat Empire than we are like the traditional hip-hop act with the deejay? Probably yes, probably no. I don't know! I don't know how we want to be... How do we want to be marketed - are we hip-hop? In that sense, no, we're not sampled beats and a deejay. If you call that hip-hop, no we're not. Are we a live band? Yes. Do we play the type of music that a producer would sample to make beats? Yes - and that is probably our aim. Our aim is to be a band that a producer of this day and age would grab the record of and sample it and throw it in their beats, but we'd rather be that band that they are sampling. And seeing that we do cross over different genres - it's not just funk, it's not just 'thing' - each song is a soundtrack to the lyric. We're like a compilation album of things that you can sample, of tons of stuff that you could sample and make beats to. So I think that's our goal, but we've started to write the new EP, which people are gonna - I don't know if they're gonna freak out or not - because there's less rapping and more singing going on.
No, which gives me a chance to play guitar and keyboard a lot more! I've written all these songs, and all these amazing musicians are in the band and playing them, and I'm sitting there biting at the teeth, going, 'I wish I could play something!' But of course I'm on rapping duties, so that's like, I'm rapping and then I'm stopping and watching. I'm thinking, 'Oh man, I wish I could like do something now!' And of course Gemma [Summerhayes] and Richard [Neho] are spectacular singers, and to have that singing talent and not use them as our lead singers is pretty stupid. The band developed as I had the songs and now we can make the music to those songs, we've now probably evolved a bit more into being like a - we've played enough shows now and travelled around and rehearsed enough to define where we are now in our sound, which is still that funky, groovy, discoey funk-type soul thing going on, but with this new stuff we're utilising who we've got in the band a lot more. We've got one of the best drummers in, if not the damn country, the planet! So we're giving him drum solos that are actually in the songs to show, hey, you wanna see how good this guy is!
Anything you'd like to add?
The music on these songs is just as important as the lyrics, if not more important, I think, to me anyway. It's like - and that's probably the difference between the hip-hop and what we do. Someone buys a beat or gets someone to make them a beat or makes a beat, then they just rap over the top and what they've got to say is like basically the important part of the song. But this is a concept and each part of the music is just as important as the lyric. So it's probably actually having the respect for the actual music rather than - it's not like we're just sampling bits of old records and then putting beats over the top and stuff like that. That's probably what we want to get out there the most - that's that what this is about - it's more about us making some good quality music rather than it being your typical rap album.
Well this [interview recording] is three hours long, so that will take me 36 hours to transcribe [as each five minutes takes one hour to transcribe - each hour, 12 hours].
Well, don't transcribe it all! Just take the bits you need. I've just done the National Film And Sound Archive, they're like, 'Oh man, can we have a yarn for like, 45 minutes?' Four hours later...
See that's another thing, I wanna hear this story of Aboriginal music that you mentioned. I'll have to collar you sometime after a gig or something.
Man... We've got Duke Ellington's lead singer on our album - Wilma Reading - that's like two separations away from Buddy Rich and all those guys. And when we go to Cairns and do a show, she's gonna sing for us! She used to be in Duke Ellington's band and she sung on a whole heap of Motown stuff as well as a backing vocalist. And it's like, 'Man, she's in our crew! She's rolling with us!'
One other thing. There's a line of questioning I probably didn't pursue properly. You've noted on NITV's Living Black how Bryte has crossover appeal because of his use of humour and you're also a man who likes to bring people together, rather than divide them. [Blogger and new Indij Hip-Hop Show co-host] RenWon [aka Renee Williamson] has noted how some Aussie hip-hop fans are "put off" by Indigenous hip-hop being "too angry". Can you tell us a bit about how "doors have been closed" on you in the past for being "too political" and how you made a conscious effort to work humour into the Renegades album, while still keeping it political?
Of course, lyric-wise I have always been political and have always been a fan of politically charged music. I am a huge fan of bands like Midnight Oil, Roaring Jack, vSpy VSpy, Billy Bragg etc. So that has always spilled over into my raps. I think it was around 1997 or 1998 that I started performing at rallies and such for about 10 years. So not only did I like to write politically enhanced raps, but taking it to the streets and performing. Also I have been a huge fan of alternative media since I stumbled across it in the late '80s. I think I first came across Green Left Weekly by heading down to the Sandringham Hotel every Thursday night for Roaring Jack gigs and a bit of stage diving with a bunch of friends, which was a great place to meet and have a yarn to people. Once I started to get some opportunities to perform in front of a more mainstream crowd and had some opportunities to impress music industry types and get offered record deals etc in the early '90s, I quickly learnt that the doors shut pretty quickly if you wanted to run your own race. Back then in the music industry, you had to toe the line. So people wanted to change what I was talking about and at the time I had a sampler and had no idea about copyright laws. Hence those doors shut quite easily. At the time I was sampling a lot of funk records that I had. Straight ripping them, but at the time a lot of the producers in the US were doing the same thing and using the same pieces that I was sampling. I would put together a track and a month later Ice Cube or Digital Underground would use that same track. All my mates were like, 'Wow, bro, they are using your track.' Ha ha ha, then I was like, 'Nah... they just used the same sample as I already used.' This kinda threw me off sampling, cos basically every time I sampled something, this would happen. Then when I was jaded by these industry mob, which was another reason I started the South-West Syndicate thing, cos I wanted to just get together with my friends and make music that we wanted to make, without being advised on any aspect. That crossed over into the time I was sampling and then moving into writing and making music, which was a fall-out from the whole sampling issue. Fast forward 20 years and I am in a band called Renegades Of Munk. Our motto is 'No samples used, no samples needed.' We also claim to play the type of music that your typical beat maker/producer would pull off the shelf and sample. Also it isn't just me any more. It is a collective of people that are not emcees. All of us are musicians. So the band is totally all about the music. With that said of course, I rap in the band and work hard on my lyrics. Each song is a concept with a story and a soundtrack. I also try to be as technical as possible within the realm of keeping to the storyline. I think our music is pretty inclusive and mostly fun for people that are coming to our shows. Of course, within even the fun songs, due to my past writing, there is always more than a few politically inspired jibes. I try to make them humorous, which then makes it accessible to fans of ours that might not be that political. But they are still digesting it, whether they know it or not. Smart game plan I think. Also, here is a bombshell. I do not listen to much hip-hop. Other than the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander hip-hop and few of the other hip-hop artists from Australia, I don't listen to much at all. You have to also remember I produce and record a hell of a lot of music and bands every year. After sitting in recording studios for 15 hours a day working on different songs and albums, the last thing I want to do outside of that is listen to music. So even listening to music is a chore. I don't do it often. It is just the whole thing of being part of the creative process because you become part of the band that you are producing and immerse yourself in what they are doing to get the best possible result out of their music. If I listen to music, I am usually pulling apart the songs, wondering why they over-compressed the hi-hats or guessing what mics were used on what instruments or on the vocals. The whole thing of listening to music to me can be quite a headache. As for hip-hop from the US, I think I stopped listening around 1992. My influences are people like Whodini, Run DMC, Roxanne Shante, all the Sugarhill Records stuff, early Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Geto Boys, Eric B & Rakim, Mantronix, Big Daddy Kane, a lot of hip-hop from the '80s, really. I am sure people will be horrified that I have never listened to a 2Pac album, even though I do remember him as a young emcee taken in by the group Digital Underground. With that said, I can rattle off a history of Aboriginal music that dates back to the 1940s and '50s. People like Harold Blair, who was an Opera legend throughout Europe, who came back home to be treated as a second-class citizen after being treated as a huge star overseas. Georgia Lee, the jazz singer that was the first female to record an album in Australia. I love to talking to people about the history of Aboriginal music from this country. It is a history that is not predominantly known.