Creativity, Community and Change: We speak with Urthboy, Sampa The Great, Ecca Vandal and more
Helmed by independent music legends Mushroom Group and supported by the Victorian Government arrives Voice for Change – a brand new community-focused project that champions creativity as a force to combat some of the issues affecting local youth today, inspiring the next generation to follow their dreams and ambitions. How will they be doing that? By assembling some of the finest names in the Australian music and sport scene – who know firsthand that even the most seemingly impossible dream can become reality.
An inspiring documentary series told over multiple installments, Voice for Change features artists and athletes from all walks of life and culture including Urthboy, Diafrix, Sampa The Great, B Wise, Ecca Vandal, Majak Daw and Archie Thompson.
Each artist is immensely talented in their own right, and each installment of the series reveals both the art behind their craft as well as the lesser known personal journeys of culture and identity that have led them to where they are today – overcoming adversity and challenges including racism, feelings of disenfranchisement and social inclusion to discovering the importance of creative outlets and community engagement.
As Tim Levinson (better known as Aussie hip hop legend Urthboy) says, change doesn't happen overnight. It can, however, happen when people from separate walks of life stand together for what they know is right.
"Change happens incrementally," says Levinson. "Just recently on January 26, I watched on as the local hip hop community expressed vocal solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in a more overt way than I'd ever seen before. The general community were talking about it more openly. I did an interview with Neil Mitchell and even he acknowledged the movement against celebrating that day.
"As a non-Indigenous person, I felt that maybe we were properly listening a bit, for once. When I was coming up in the 2000s, the biggest acts didn't think twice about displaying huge Australian flags on stage on Invasion Day shows. Recent times have reminded me how powerful solidarity is in fighting for change."
Music has always been one of society's greatest assets to create change. It's a platform to turn a message into an anthem – one that can be sung back from writhing festival crowds to intimate bandrooms – transcending barriers both cultural and geographic. From Marvin Gaye's What's Going On to Diafrix's I'm A Dreamer, music's capacity to create positive change in the world is almost unrivalled.
"For me, creativity provides a medium where people can express themselves and touch on certain emotions that cannot be articulated in a conversational format," says Khaled 'Azmarino' Abdulwahad – better known as Diafrix. "[Artists] can express themselves on certain topics that they might be passionate about and inspire a seed that could turn to a change of thought.
"Creativity brings people together and sparks motivation for those engaging in creative pursuits. For the next generation, emerging creatives can harness their skills, their connections and what the creative industries have taught us to express themselves and reach new audiences in different and much faster ways to bring about change."
As for emerging emcee B-Wise, one of the greatest elements of creativity is its accessibility. In other words, there is no barrier for entry except dedication and an idea. Whether you're from Dandenong or Doncaster, Frankston or Flemington, and everything in between – creativity doesn't discriminate. The only requirement is a will to start.
"Everyone has their own unique form of creativity they can use," he says. "It just has to be found, unlocked and guided to grow. It's the best form of therapy, relatable and a great way to keep busy. I think as technology advances, things move faster and access to information becomes quick and easy. Art and creativity for the next generation will be exciting and forward thinking. Anything is possible."
Born to Sri Lankan refugees, Ecca Vandal settled in Melbourne by way of South Africa. Her parents fled civil war in their home country before she spent part of her life living under apartheid rule. Eventually, her family made it to Australia. Vandal followed her ambition to study music – choosing a stint at the Victorian College of the Arts as opposed to studying business. It's safe to say her self-belief paid off, going on to become one of the most distinct acts on the Australian scene.
"Creative thinkers see opportunity when there is a problem by thinking outside of the box to come up with innovative and workable solutions," says Vandal. "We need to keep nurturing the uncommon ideas and unique minds in our community so that we create a safe place for that expression."
Ever-rising R&B hero Sampa The Great feels the same.
"Creativity itself is honest expression," she says. "Growing honest expression in youth will allow the next generation the freedom to not only express themselves but accept and love their uniqueness.
It's clear that the next generation of Ecca Vandals and Urthboys are already among us. But one thing Voice for Change aims to demonstrate is that you don't need to be a famous hip hop act or superstar football player to make a difference. Everyone has to start somewhere and the strongest voices for change come from within the community itself. Moreover, change can come about through following creative pursuits which foster social cohesion and community connections and can help combat the social issues youth face today.
Tomorrow's community leaders are out there too. All you've got to do is decide how to use your voice; to actively raise it as a force for making a positive difference – in whatever capacity that means to you.
By James Di Fabrizio