Released April 2012
"We wanted to do everything on this album," Tjimba Possum-Burns tells Green Left Weekly. He is talking about Standing Strong, the aptly-titled second album by Yung Warriors.
On the record, the Aboriginal hip hop crew he fronts with his cousin, Danny "D-Boy" Ramzan, take listeners on a journey from hard-hitting politics to straight-up party tracks.
"We wanted everything and every different sound, too, just put into one thing," says Tjimba. "And that's something we're proud of, me and D-Boy. We've accomplished that."
They have accomplished it in style. The album jumps straight in at the deep end with the hard-hitting "Black Deaths In Custody", a song as uncompromising as its no-nonsense title suggests. More than 20 years on from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Indigenous people are still dying behind bars and their incarceration rates have soared.
D-Boy says: "It's an issue that's been ignored by the news. It's an issue that's been happening for years now and nobody really talks about it, so we thought we'd just write a song about it."
Tjimba, sitting next to him in the Melbourne office of their label, Payback Records, nods in agreement. "It's a spreading awareness thing, for people who don't know about it," he says.
The song also rails against opposition leader Tony Abbott's comment on Australia Day this year that it was time for Aboriginal people to "move on" from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy: "Take a look at the past and tell me, why the fuck we should move on."
One white Australian who knows Aboriginal people have no reason to "move on" is Desert Pea Media's Toby Finlayson, who runs hip hop workshops in remote communities throughout Australia with his Aboriginal partner in rhyme, Matthew Priestley. In an interview with GLW last year, Finlayson said one of the main differences he'd noticed between white and Black Australia is that Aboriginal people do things "proper way, family way".
"That says it all," says Tjimba. "In Black communities it's all about kinship and family, knowing who our grandmothers are, knowing who our great grandmothers are and where our people are from - and that's one way we are totally different."
It is this sentiment that led Yung Warriors to write the song "Family Love". They posted the video to their Facebook page on Valentine's Day, describing it as a "real love song".
Says D-Boy: "We're nothing without family. I guess it all comes from how it happened back in the day, with slavery and families being separated. It's all about kinship. We're first cousins, my mum and Tjimba's mum are from Alice Springs and they're sisters."
The band returned to the red centre to film the video for the song with their relatives. Tjimba says: "There's a few settlements around Alice Springs and most of them are our family, so we thought we'd go do the video there. I loved having the desert in the background. That was special."
They also returned to the desert to film "Hold On", a song about their mothers' famous father, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri. It describes how the renowned artist was constantly ripped off, despite his fame.
"I grew up with the happy side of Tjapal and I also grew up knowing that people ripped him off," says Tjimba. "But the best thing about Tjapal was he always put his foot down. That's what made us stronger, too, because I reckon we look back at Tjapal's life and what he did. It's just another step for us, so he's just left his footsteps. We're like the princes in that desert."
D-Boy nods and laughs. "Yeah, grandpa was a really famous, well-known Aboriginal artist. Tjimba's father - my uncle - Selwyn Burns, played in Coloured Stone and also a band called Blackfire. They wrote a song about grandpa as well. He's like a big celebrity up there in Alice Springs. And us being his grandchildren, we get the same treatment."
The song also features another famous Aboriginal artist - award-winning soul singer Kutcha Edwards. Tjimba recalls how Yung Warriors approached the legendary voice.
"Kutcha Edwards was just in the studio at the time but I thought, wow, it's going to be so good if we can just get your voice, instead of singing the chorus, telling the story about it."
D-Boy cracks up laughing at the impropriety of it. "We just went in that day and said, 'Can you read this, bro?'," he cackles. "And we got that voice. It wasn't like, 'Come in the studio.' He was just here, so it was like, 'Unc, can you just read this?'"
D-Boy and Tjimba are clearly in touch with their inner child, and they love to get their younger siblings involved in the band, as can be seen in the clip for the song "Standing Strong".
"The video was cool," says Tjimba. "To get the kids involved - that's what we always do, all D-Boy's family too - Dean's little brother and stuff. Whenever we do the band stuff I get my brothers up."
Their own childhood is recalled in the song "Childhood Days", a period that has come back to them with the closing of Ballerrt Mooroop, the Aboriginal school they attended with Payback Records boss and AFL player Nathan Lovett-Murray.
"We were actually some of the first kids to go to that school when it opened," says Tjimba. "And I fought for that school near the end because I thought our people do need encouragement. At that school you learnt other stuff too, like culture. I got most of my creativity from school."
D-Boy nods. "It made you street smart," he says. "It opened your eyes more to what was around you. The struggles of living in the city and all that. It wasn't like a normal school, it just made you think outside the box. More streetwise, that's what I got out of that school."
It seems that school is also responsible for one of the strongest, most diverse albums this year.
Yung Warriors resume their national album tour on July 12. Green Left has bought a copy of the album and a medium-size Yung Warriors T-shirt to give away. Just email your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org before the next issue comes out on July 18. Winner picked at random.
Yung Warriors' "Just A Thought", filmed in the community of Collingwood.