The extraordinary talent and output of First Nations music stars will once again be celebrated at this year’s National Indigenous Music Awards (NIMAs).
Originally slated to go ahead as a live event in Darwin back in August, the series of Covid-related issues has resulted in a reimagined NIMAs, going ahead as a two-hour special on triple j / Double J and Unearthed on Sunday, November 14. The reimagined event will feature exclusive performances as we celebrate one of the biggest years in First Nations music.
Renowned as Australia’s premier First Nations music event, the event will be shining its spotlight on a diverse cross-section of 14 nominated First Nations solo artists and 11 First Nations groups deservedly shortlisted across seven categories.
From heavy metal to hip-hop, pop, and folk, this year’s nominees prove First Nations music refuses to be pigeonholed and is making its mark on the world stage.
“This year, as we focus on healing and reflection, we have the wonderful opportunity to reconnect as a community to discover and celebrate the magic of music from both up-and-coming and established First Nation artists,” said NIMAs’ Creative Director Ben Graetz.
“The finalists are some of the most talented musicians across the country and the world, and we are proud to be able to provide a platform for their musical craft to be recognised.”
Ahead of the awards, we take a look at the fierce collection of talent representing Victoria at this year’s event.
Nominations: Artist of the year & Song of the year for ‘Bagi-la-m Bargan’
Since his EP ‘Birdz Eye View’ was released in 2013, BIRDZ (aka Nathan Bird) has been at the forefront of the emerging hip-hop movement in Australia, building a loyal, strong following with his unique brand of hard-hitting Hip Hop embodying strong messages of hope and self-determination.
Signed to Bad Apples Music, Birdz is one of the label’s most established artists with a consistent track record of excellent releases. The unapologetic rapper’s debut album Train Of Thought (2017) was received with critical acclaim and deservedly won the Australian Independent Record Label Associations – Best Independent Hip Hop Album, was shortlisted for the Australian Music Prize, Nominated for Music Victoria’s Best Hip Hop Album and was loved by community radio and digital service providers nationally.
It’s only being up from there, releasing his most impactful project to date in the Place of Dreams Ep (2019), featuring world-class collaborations with the likes of Mo’ju, Ecca Vandal, Serina Pech and A.B. Original’s Trials on production.
Alongside his deserving nomination for artist of the year, Birdz has scored a nomination for his 2020 single, “Bagi-la-m Bargan feat. Fred Leone” which was voted as #30 on triple j’s Hottest 100.
Written and recorded for National Indigenous Television (NITV)’s new documentary Looky, Looky Here Comes Cooky, Birdz co-wrote the song with Trials and Fred Leone. Bagi-la-m Bargan was inspired by the story of the Butchulla people seeing James Cook sail past Kgari (aka Fraser Island), with Birdz writing from a young warrior’s perspective defending his country.
“While the song itself is character-driven, it’s also a family affair and that’s what makes it extra special. As well as being cousins, Fred’s like my big brother and mentor, and Trials is like my brother too, so the whole process of writing the song was mad organic and one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve had in my career so far.”
2021 has already seen BIRDZ; Collab with Missy Higgins for a very special performance on ABC’s the Set, appear as a featured artist on the RAP IT UP documentary series that is being hosted by triple j and abc i-view, be the face of a nation-wide ‘Strong Mob’ health campaign, and release singles ‘Fly’ and ‘They Don’t Know’ from his second album LEGACY, due for release November 19.
The proud Butchulla rapper will showcase LEGACY next April, headlining shows in capital cities as well as taking to the stage for Land Of Plenty Festival in Shepparton.
Listen to ‘Bagi-la-m Bargan’ below.
Nominations: Album of The Year for ‘Chosen Line’
Said to be one of the best voices in Australia, Yorta Yorta man Benny Walker never fails to take you on an emotionally driven journey.
Hailing from regional Victoria, Walker is armed with a voice that is said to have the drag and timbre of a natural soul man. His music is pure blues-rock, buoyed by clean, lyrical guitar solos and the throb of the electric organ.
Having earned four NIMA nominations and the award for “Best Aboriginal Talent” at The Age Music Victoria Awards back in 2016, Walker has gone on to perform alongside some of Australia’s finest over the years, including Alex Lloyd, Archie Roach, Baker Boy, Blue King Brown, Mojo Juju and Tim Rogers, and was awarded Victorian Indigenous Performing Arts Award for Best New Talent in 2012.
In recent years he has performed at some of the country’s best-loved festivals, including Byron Bluesfest, Port Fairy Folk Festival, Moomba, Woodford, Yalukut Festival, St Kilda Festival and Blue Mountains Music Festival.
While cranking out tunes for over a decade, it’s his third studio album Chosen Line that earned him a nomination at the NIMAs. Released last year, Chosen Line is a variety of high quality, raw and passionate artistry and includes acclaimed singles ‘All Ya Gotta Do Is Call’ and ‘We’re Home’. From considerably mellow vibes to hard-hitting blues tracks that will bend your soul, Chosen Line demands not to be defined by a singular genre.
“Chosen Line could’ve been called ‘Songline’ or even ‘Unchosen Line’. The title represents my ‘chosen’ career path. I didn’t really choose it. I embraced it. I come from a long line of storytellers and musicians, and they’ve all had a significant impact on the person I’ve become and the musician that I am,” Benny Walker says of the album.
“I’m a Yorta Yorta man and in our culture, we would call that my Songline. Yorta Yorta visual artist, John Patten, created the album artwork taking into account my songline and the Yorta Yorta totem the long-neck turtle as well as the river that also represents the fretboard of a guitar.”
For those looking for some modern blues to serenade their ears, check out Benny Walker’s Chosen Line below.
Nominations: Artist of the Year, Song of the Year for ‘Better Days’, and Video of the Year for ‘Ride ft. Yirrmal’
Danzal Baker aka Baker Boy was first introduced to adoring fans in 2017, with the one-two punch of debut singles ‘Cloud 9’ featuring Kian, and ‘Marryuna, featuring Yirrmal, and since then it’s been an upward trajectory for the Indigenous Australian rapper.
The entirety of Baker Boy’s art, from his infectious flow to his music’s modern-throwback production to the jaw-dropping dance moves he perfected as part of the Djuki Mala dance troupe, connected instantly.
With each successive release, Baker Boy continued to establish himself as a deft, talented rapper, with charisma and verve inherited from the genre’s greats. His list of career accolades include APRA AMCOS Song of The Year Nomination for ‘Meditjin feat. JessB’, six ARIA nominations; an ARIA Gold certification for ‘Cool As Hell’; six wins at the National Indigenous Music Awards; an Order of Australia medal; the 2019 Young Australian of the Year award; plus so many more. We’d be here all day if we kept going.
Fresh off performing at the 2021 AFL Grand Final, Baker Boy has most recently dropped his debut album Gela, in which he floats effortlessly between English and Yolngu Matha, his native tongue.
The album features catchy pop songs with collaborations from G Flip, Yirrmal, Lara Andallo, JessB, Jerome Fatah and even a spoken word verse from Uncle Jack Charles on ‘Survive’.
Check out the album here and the video for ‘Ride’ below.
Sampa The Great
Nominations: Song of the Year ‘Better Days’
Almost without fail, the Zambian-born, Botswana-raised Sampa Tembo’s releases have prompted a sputtering of superlatives since The Great Mixtape showed up in 2015. The Melbourne-based hip hop wunderkind claims her moniker’s descriptive complement is something to aspire towards, and she’s never recoiled at the task.
Her 2019 debut album, The Return was stacked with features from artists of African descent, Australian and abroad which saw her recently pick up three ARIA Awards, including Best Independent Release, Best Female Artist and Best Hip Hop Release. Across 19 tracks, the album takes you from her native Africa, to the golden era of hip hop, and modern R&B as she fiercely raps about black excellence, the impact of fame, and the strength of women.
The artist has been busy working on its follow-up and last year played a show from Zambia, during which she debuted new song, ‘This Is The Light’. While in fine form, it’s her collaboration with Baker Boy that has earned her a nomination at the NIMAs this year.
Released back in 2020, ‘Better Days’ sees Baker Boy recruiting Sampa The Great and Dallas Woods in a celebration of culture and language. The track explores themes such as oppression, the pressures of meeting the expectations of your culture, and imposter syndrome while incorporating English, Yolngu Matha and Bemba into its lyrical flow.
A dynamic and impactful track, ‘Better Days’ explores the personal challenges and experiences of some of the country’s most powerful contemporary voices while offering an ultimately uplifting message of resilience and perseverance.
Listen to ‘Better Days’ below.
Nominations: New Talent of The Year
First Nations-led punk rock band Chasing Ghosts join the NIMAs this year with their very first nomination for New Talent of the Year.
Chasing Ghosts was born in 2011 with the release of Conversations From A Phone Booth, an intimate record displaying a starkly different sound to frontman Jimmy Kyle’s previous work in hardcore bands Bellevue and Sulo.
Five years later, Kyle dropped Chasing Ghosts’ eagerly awaited sophomore album I Am Jimmy Kyle, which saw his sound evolve once again as he moved into alternative punk territory. With his new bigger sound, Kyle decided to recruit a band to match, adding five members to Chasing Ghosts’ lineup.
As a proud Koori member and descendent of the Thungutti mob, songwriter Kyle makes no qualms or excuses about his Aboriginal heritage, pouring aspects of his own lived experiences into his songs and touching on the dark parts of national history.
Releasing their first new music since 2016 earlier this year, the band made a splash with their new EP ‘Homelands’ in early June, featuring singles ‘Summer’, ‘Busted Lung’ and ‘Dig’, giving listeners a history lesson on the treatment of Aboriginal people throughout Australia’s history – from the English invasion through to the modern period.
For the first time in the band’s history, Kyle sings in both English and his native tongue on this EP, which was released through Bad Apples Music, a label headed by Shepparton rapper Briggs.
Most recently, the band were also nominated for the Archie Roach Award for Emerging Talent in the Music Victoria Awards.
Check out their EP ‘Homelands’ below.
You can tune in to triple j, Double J and triple j Unearthed to listen to the 2021 National Indigenous Music Awards 14 November (5-7pm AEDT). Find out more about the event here.