Darah says it was a fellow Aboriginal rapper who inspired him to take a more radical direction on his latest album, I Believe In Revolution. “This whole album was largely inspired by Big Luke’s albumMessage From A Black Man,” the Victorian emcee tellsGreen Left.
Just as Big Luke took a no-holds barred approach on that album, so Darah has come out with both guns blazing on his latest effort. But Big Luke is not just an inspiration to Darah.
“Big Luke is my cousin, we grew up together in Shepparton,” he says. “He’s also my right hand man when it comes to the music.”
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Darah wrote I Believe In Revolution while he was producing Big Luke’s album. But it was that album’s titanic title track, “Message From A Black Man”, that really ignited the spark. “Specifically in that song, when he said, ‘sick of these convicts selling our land, making a bank, we should roll on parliament in a muthafuckin’ tank’ – it just resonated with me,” says Darah.
That spark ignited the sonic petrol bomb that is Darah’s “City On Fire”. Soon, the rest of his album caught ablaze. “‘City On Fire’ was the first song I wrote for the album and every other song sort of grew out of this one,” he says. “The song centres around the idea of burning down all the ideologies that are built on corrupt foundations.” Over a surf rock twang and chest-thumping chant, he raps:
(Light ’em up) set the city on fire
(Yeah yeah) set the city on fire
Where I’m from, politicians don’t come around
Molotov parliament house, we gon burn it down
Tired of being greeted with years of disrespect
Need to move the politicians to a housing project
Put ’em on welfare and make ’em work for the dole
Put their kids in public schools with hand-me-down clothes
Where they get kicked outta class for interruptin’ the session
But they can’t focus ’cause at home, everybody’s stressin’
And police profile, target, harass and arrest ’em
Till they got a chip on their shoulder for anyone who test ’em
Burn down cities, slums, commissions and prisons
Burn down mansions where rich folk living
Burn down government legislations and policies
Burn down the military, the courts and the police
Burn down banks set fire to currency
Burn down corporate greed and mining companies
Burn down mainstream media telling you lies
Burn it all down to the ground and free your mind
Darah’s mistrust of the mainstream media also comes to the fore in “Blame It On The Poor”. “I wrote ‘Blame It On The Poor’ because a lot of times in the media you see these sensationalised stories painting poor people in a negative light, and people internalise it and they repeat it and they blame all the problems in society on people who have no power instead of holding the government accountable,” he says.
“They say that us Blackfellas are criminals and alcoholics, but they refuse to acknowledge the institutionalised racism within society that alienates people and in turn cultivates that behaviour. They say poor white people are all dole bludgers, but a lot of times they don’t have the education to get high-paying jobs. They say migrants and refugees are taking jobs and resources and culture away from everyone, but refugees are not in a position of power to take anything away from anybody. So while we are all busy fighting each other, those who actually have power continue to profit off us.”
The system’s got us all trapped, struggling to survive
Everybody’s stressed, people barely getting by
While the rich get richer, taking advantage of us all
They try to tell you, ‘Just blame it on the poor’
No money coming in, man, times is hard
My cousin out there every day, tryna find a job
But he keeps getting knocked back, can’t help but think that
Maybe it’s the fact that his skin is jet black
And he never finished high school, had problems with his teachers
Treated like a bad seed, they said they couldn’t reach him
Racism’s still alive, institutionalised
While the ignorant still try to deny and justify
And I don’t blame white people at all
Most of those I know came up poor
Exploited and abused, too, by their own government
Treated like dirt by their own countrymen
Their own people don’t acknowledge ’em
Too poor and uneducated and never been to college, man
The system is designed to keep us all divided
But we gon need each other to survive it
It hurts me to see how we treat refugees
Who left their whole life behind overseas
In hopes for something better, but instead what they get?
Treated like criminals and constant disrespect
Just for being different, born somewhere not here
Propaganda in the media spreads irrational fear
Some seek asylum and get thrown in detention centres
No trial and indefinite sentences when they enter
The corporate media’s role of “normalising the unthinkable”, in the words of media critic Edward Herman, means refugees fleeing countries on which Australia is waging war are demonised. It means well-meaning people who once protested against the international crime of the Iraq war have now internalised the liberal media’s refrain that the war was simply a “mistake”. It means that after the FBI found that money lenders had committed widespread fraud in the sub-prime mortgage crisis that brought the world’s economy to its knees in 2008, none of the perpetrators have been jailed. Instead, the unthinkable has been normalised, by letting them walk free, blaming the poor for the crippling debts instead and punishing them with brutal austerity.
The mendacious manipulation of the mainstream media also comes bubbling back to the surface in “They Tellin’ Lies”. The song is “about the growing distrust for government, media and the education system, as a result of years of manipulation and exploitation”, says Darah.
“It’s also inspired by the fact that we are now living in the information age and you have people like WikiLeaks andGreen Left Weekly and other independent media fighting to bring the truth to the people while the governments are attempting to suppress that information. It’s not a new thing that governments are trying to keep the truth from coming out. However, in recent times we are seeing a full display of the extent to which they will go to keep the truth hidden.”
Intellectual and activist Noam Chomsky is well-known for his criticism of the media in his seminal work with Edward Herman, Manufacturing Consent. But he is less well-known for arguing that the education system is probably worse as a form of indoctrination. Chomsky says: “The main point I think is that the entire school curriculum, from kindergarten through graduate school, will be tolerated only so long as it continues to perform its institutional role.” Darah draws the same parallels – from government, to media, to education – in “They Tellin’ Lies”:
(The government) they tellin’ lies
(The media) they tellin’ lies
(The school system) they tellin’ lies
Tryna keep the people blind
Don’t believe everything you read
Or everything you see on your TV screen
They mislead, they misconstrue
They twist the truth to try to keep us all confused
The mainstream news, it’s propaganda
See they don’t want to see the people stand up
Fill your head with lies, so we can’t see
They say it’s all good, but nah, we ain’t free
They exploit the masses just to make a profit
They keep us down to make some money off us
And when they run for office, they say believe in change
But we don’t see no change, everything just stays the same
They ain’t tryna share the wealth, nah, see, they tryna hold it
All to theyself, so that they can control it
But they won’t tell you that, they say we’re all equal
They call it capitalism, I call it exploiting the people
The Australian Labor Party came to power in 2007 promising to scrap legislation that had required the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act. The Northern Territory Emergency Response, otherwise known as the Northern Territory Intervention, had used discredited evidence to label Aboriginal people paedophiles and alcoholics and force them off their remote communities into “hub towns”. Some, such as multi-award-winning Australian journalist John Pilger, labelled the Intervention an old-fashioned land grab. The government’s ownfigures show the Intervention has failed. But Instead of scrapping the legislation, the Labor government extended it this year for a further decade, under the Orwellian name “Stronger Futures”.
“There is so much wrong with the NT Intervention and the Stronger Futures legislation that I don’t even know where to start,” says Darah. “It disempowers Aboriginal communities by taking away our autonomy and our ability to achieve self-determination. The Stronger Futures legislation is made possible because at the end of the day many Australians see Aboriginal people as nothing more than criminals and alcoholics who will abuse the system and who are incapable of taking care of ourselves and need to be policed.
“It’s a continuation from the idea of the noble savage that is embedded in the Australian psyche. Aboriginal people are portrayed as savage natives, unable to survive in a modern world, who need to be broken down and subsequently Aboriginal children need to be saved from our communities by white people. But instead of strengthening the people they are supposedly saving, they punish them.
“This is the reason that community consultations have very little effect on government policies, because they see no value or merit in Aboriginal culture outside symbolism and tourism. This is not a new theme in Australia, it’s just the latest manifestation.”
The stuttering offbeats of “They Tellin’ Lies” are the sound of a producer not afraid to push boundaries. Darah’s compositions have grown to the point where they can be compared to the stupendous soundclashes of Public Enemy’s production team, the Bomb Squad.
“It’s funny that you mention the Bomb Squad because they were definitely a large influence when I was making this album,” he says. “I was definitely influenced by that hectic, hard pumping sound that they created. When I first started working on the album I really just started thinking about what it was that first made me fall in love with hip-hop and I really kinda miss the music that was socially conscious and at the same time very much in your face and just thumps when you play it. So I really wanted to create something with that feel, where it just hits you.”
But there are also moments where Darah loosens up the aural tension, such as on the flutey loops of “It Starts With You”. The song was inspired by a group of righteous rhymers who arose from the late 1960s African American civil rights movement.
“‘It Starts With You’ was my version of a Last Poets song,” he says. “That’s why the beat is very minimalist and my rhyme style might be a little different. I feel that if you are a hip-hop fan and you like music with a message you have to check out The Last Poets, especially since they kind of invented rapping in the form we know it.
“In the chorus I say, ‘revolution ain’t nothing but change’, because I believe that change starts within each of us, so if you look around and don’t like what you see, you have to make a change internally in order for that change to manifest externally. You can’t expect the world to become a better place if you are unwilling to become a better person.”
I know it might sound strange
But revolution ain’t nothing but change
It’s on you now, what you gon do?
You wanna change the world, it starts with you
It’s time for change, but we’ve gotta stand together
Hold it down through all types of weather
Be each other’s strength working side by side
To overcome that which stands against us
Unified we rise, alone we die defenceless
That solid feel for solidarity is laid in the foundations the album on its strong-as-concrete opener, “All In It Together”. “When I wrote ‘All In It Together’ I knew it was going to be the first song on the album,” says Darah.
“I wrote it as a way to bring people into my frame of mind. I wanted to show that although the album is told from an Aboriginal perspective and a lot of the content is centred around my experiences as an Aborigine living under an imposed colonial culture, at the same time, I’m not trying to exclude anyone, because at the end of the day we’re in this together and we gotta work together if we really want to make a change.”
No matter the time, no matter the weather
We gon rise up, we all in it together
Black or white man, I spread love,
For my people I’ma ride, yeah I shed blood
In that spirit, there are many collaborations on the album, with artists such as Dubbzone, Buddy Blair, DTA Mob and Antwon, with whom Darah has rebuilt firebombed bridges.
“Antwon is dope,” says Darah. “It’s funny though, a couple of years ago Antwon actually had a beef with my cousin, Cappa Ak from The Egoz. But, you know, I’m all about working with each other, not against each other. So when I first connected with Antwon, we had spoken on it and agreed that what’s in the past is in the past, so we linked up.
“As artists – and especially Aboriginal artists – we are passionate people and sometimes we bump heads or rub each other the wrong way. But at the end of the day, we’re all coming from the same place. I can definitely feel where he’s coming from and the music that he makes. It’s street, but it’s political at the same time, and I feel like we need that. He’s got a strong voice and he knows how to use it.”
Antwon has made some of the most radical and uncompromising hip-hop in Australia. He is not readily given to compliments, but when asked about Darah, he tells Green Left: “Yeah, I admire that brother. He’s got talent and a good head on his shoulders. I give props when it’s due.”
The video for “All In It Together” was made on location in Fitzroy – Melbourne’s equivalent of Sydney’s Redfern – by Darah’s sister, Vanessa Morris. The photography graduate also filmed Darah’s “Never Back Down” at last year’s NAIDOC march in Melbourne and is already developing a distinctive style, as seen in the split-mirror rhythmic zooms and sans serif fonts of Darah’s “On The Set”. She also plugs straight into the rhythm of “All In It Together”, with strobes that shake with the breaks.
“The straight up rawness and honesty of Darah’s work, and this song in particular, was something I wanted to illustrate,” she tells Green Left. “Having more so a background in art and photography, I’ve always had the thought that it comes back to the audience – in that an effective video, or artwork for that instance, can spark some type of emotion, whether that be happiness, sadness, anger, or whatever.
“I find Darah’s music raw and honest. It has a passion and energy that’s unique and something you can’t force. It’s natural and not artificial. The work he’s doing in representing and telling the stories of our people through music is pure and sometimes overwhelmingly powerful.
“The video was filmed at a few spots around the Fitzroy area in Melbourne. Location plays a massive role, which could be considered as the backbone of the video. Darah wanted to shoot in this area, because when our elders were first moving off the missions and into the city, Fitzroy was a central location that people would come to. It’s also where a lot of early Aboriginal political movements came from.
“Although the commission flats seen in some shots weren’t there in the early days, they now symbolise the area and also house people from a lot of different backgrounds – tying in with the theme that we are all in it together.”
Among the most prominent names associated with Fitzroy is academic and activist Gary Foley, one of the many freedom fighters to whom Darah pays tribute on his track “My Heroes (Salute)”.
“I would say that Gary Foley is probably my biggest influence,” says Darah. “He has been a part of so many important moments and movements for Aboriginal people, from his role in the Tent Embassy, to the Aboriginal Legal Service in Redfern, to helping organise protests against the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games and the 1988 Australian Bicentenary. I have also seen him speak a number of times and his ability to express the nature of racism embedded within Australian society against Aboriginal people is second to none.”
Foley, who lectures in history at Victoria University, is impressed by Darah’s bid to teach history through hip-hop, and has even gone so far as to hail him and Big Luke as “the next generation of freedom fighters”. But Darah is standing on the shoulders of previous generations, as he attests in “My Heroes (Salute)”:
One time I dedicate this song to those who paved the way
Came from the bottom, never had nothing, but made a way
Stood up for the people, a voice for the unheard
In the face of adversity, they stood undeterred
They was treated like dirt, battered and brutalised
Told that we was primitive, but they saw through the lies
Had the whole world against ’em, but they still stood up
It wasn’t easy, but they did it for us, so I salute
William Cooper, Doug Nicholls, Jack Patten, (Salute)
William Ferguson, Pearl Gibbs, Bill Onus, (Salute)
Fred Maynard, Tom Lacey, Marge Tucker, (Salute)
Kath Walker, Bruce McGuinness, Bill Cragie, (Salute)
Michael Anderson, Tony Coorey, Bertie Williams, (Salute)
Chicka Dixon, Robbie Thorpe, Alf Bamblett, (Salute)
Bob Maza, Gary Foley, Paul Coe, (Salute)
These are just a few of my heroes
Asked to talk about those heroes, Darah offers a short answer or a long answer. Since Foley places great emphasis on telling and re-telling the stories of Aboriginal activists, it’s a no-brainer to opt for the long answer.
“These aren’t government-appointed ‘leaders’,” replies Darah. “These are individuals who took the charge and gave their all to improve our condition. You won’t learn about them in school textbooks, but they are very important and deserve to be acknowledged. So while schools are teaching our kids about bushrangers and white Australian explorers, we have to teach our kids about the Aboriginal freedom fighters.
“Early leaders like John Maynard, Tom Lacey, William Cooper, Doug Nicholls, Jack Patten, William Ferguson, Pearl Gibbs, Bill Onus and Marge Tucker inspire me through the courage and strength they displayed in standing up in a time when Aboriginal people were considered wards of the state and being treated as an inferior race of people soon to be extinct. They also made many important connections between different Aboriginal communities, unifying people in support of common aims.
“The next generation, Kath Walker, Bruce McGuinness, Bill Cragie, Michael Anderson, Tony Coorey, Bertie Williams, Chicka Dixon, Robbie Thorpe, Alf Bamblett, Bob Maza, Gary Foley and Paul Coe inspire me in the way that they lead a strong charge towards self-empowerment and self-determination. They shifted the aims to be not just equal to whites within Australian society, but to be strong on our own accord and by our own strength. They brought land rights and self determination to the forefront of Aboriginal discourse and showed that we don’t need permission to raise ourselves up. Each of these people also played a part in mobilisation of the Aboriginal political movements and aims for Aboriginal self-determination and inspire me to continue to seek to improve things for my people.
“The first Aboriginal political organisation to begin linking up communities together was the Australian Aboriginal Progress Association in 1925. It was led by Fred Maynard and Tom Lacey, who were largely influenced by the ideas of the Sydney chapter of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, of which they were also members. Along with calling for the cessation of the state-sanctioned removal of Aboriginal children, they also saw the importance of freehold land ownership to economic independence for Aboriginal people. It was this beginning that helped inspire many future generations of Aboriginal activists.
“William Cooper was the founder of the Aboriginal Advancement League in Victoria, and with the help of Doug Nicholls and Marge Tucker, was central to organising Aboriginal political movement and connecting up communities across Victoria and also helping communicate with other political organisations interstate.
“Jack Patten, William Ferguson and Pearl Gibbs were the founding members of the Aborigines Progressive Association in Sydney, helping to mobilise the New South Wales movement.
“Bill Onus worked with the Aborigines Progressive Association and later became the president of the Aboriginal Advancement League, and worked in building support for local Aborigines both in Sydney and Melbourne, but also helped provide support for movements in Western Australia and South Australia.
“Kath Walker – also known as Oodgeroo Noonuccal – was a poet, artist and activist who used her art to educate people about the external conditions and inner feelings that Aboriginal people face every day.
“Bruce McGuinness was one of the founders of the Black Power movement among Aborigines, which saw Black Power as a means to achieve self-determination.
“Bill Cragie, Michael Anderson, Tony Coorey and Bertie Williams were the four individuals who established the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on January 26, 1972, on the lawn of parliament in Canberra, in response to the government’s refusal to recognise Aboriginal land rights. The Aboriginal Tent Embassy would go on to become one of the largest, most important demonstrations in Australian history and one of the most successful in bringing land rights to the forefront of Australian political discourse.
“Chicka Dixon was another leader like Bruce McGuinness who helped bridge the gap between the generations and inspire action among the new generation of activists. He also worked in drawing help from trade unions in supporting equality for Aboriginal people and further helped show parallels between Aboriginal people in Australia and the native peoples of America and Canada.
“Robbie Thorpe is an Indigenous activist in Melbourne who has remained active at the front of protests regarding the current plight of Aboriginal people and was central to leading the Black GST protests which call for recognition of Genocide, Sovereignty and Treaty.
“Alf Bamblett is the current president of the Aboriginal Advancement League and has committed his life to improving the lives and outcomes for Aboriginal people in Victoria, with specific regard to education, housing and social justice. He was also the lead singer for the Aboriginal country band Stray Blacks.
“Bob Maza is one of the most important historical figures in Aboriginal performance art, setting up Black Theatre in Redfern and continuing work in both theatre and film. Having been both the president of the Aboriginal Advancement League and a part of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy prior to moving towards performance art, his works contain strong anti-colonial themes and social commentary, which is something I aspire for with my works.
“Paul Coe was an important member in developing a lot of early programs in the Redfern community. He led calls for the 1967 Referendum, was part of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy protests and in 1979 he took a case to the High Court challenging British sovereignty over Aboriginal lands.”
But Darah isn’t just continuing the legacy of his Aboriginal heroes. “The Revolution Will Be Live” is his tribute to one of his African American heroes, the recently departed Gil Scott-Heron. Darah picks up Scott-Heron’s legacy and runs with it.
“‘The Revolution Will Be Live’ is a continuation of Gil Scott-Heron’s classic ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’,” he says. “People often quote that phrase without quoting what comes directly after it, which is ‘the revolution will be live’. So I’m just exploring that idea that revolution takes place in real life and I think today we are seeing a lot of things changing in societies all over the world and we can either sit back and wait for change or we can get up and be active in making change.
“I’m also exploring the idea that people want to feel safe in society, but that ‘safety’ is not really for our benefit – it’s to keep us under control so that we can be exploited. We aren’t taught survival skills, we are only taught enough to keep us contained.”
Live, in the streets where the drama don’t cease
And it’s bigger than just beefing with the police
Who really runs the government? Politicians is puppets
Rich companies pull strings, the vote means nothing
The people sick and tired of being victim
Class division inequalities upheld by the system
And you can hear it if you listen, the streets is talkin’
The temperature’s rising, no escaping, no hiding
The time ticking, the final minutes, the earth spinning
Shorter days, cold summers, hot winters
Things are spinning outta control now, so where we heading?
Watch your back, man, I’m ready for the Armageddon
They try to suppress the masses and keep you caught up
Focused on the mundane while your days are getting shorter
They abuse us and use us, try to tie us down
‘Cause they know the power is in us to change it all around
One time y’all, we gotta fight to stay alive
Survival of the fit and only the strong survive
They tryna break you down, I’m just tryna help you rise
Gotta keep your eyes open to their ways and stay wise
It’s time to separate the truth from the lie
To see through the deception gotta use your third eye
The revolution will not be televised
The revolution will be live
Revolution is a theme that returns again and again as Darah’s album spins. But it practically leaps off the record and grabs the listener by the throat on the tracks “Rebel”, “Revolutionary Mind State”, “Blackfella Revolutionary” and the album’s closer, “I Believe In Revolution”.
“‘Rebel’ was inspired by two of my favourite artists, Bob Marley and Fela Kuti,” says Darah. “That’s why I gave them a shout out in the lyrics. I feel that music isn’t just for entertainment – music is a powerful art form that allows you to deliver your thoughts straight from the artist to the listener. So this song is about taking that charge and standing up for what you believe in and if that means standing against the establishment, then that’s what you gotta do. I’m also saying that I’m only one of many, and even if they stop me another will take my place.”
Rebel to the system man, I speak fire
Fight for my people no doubt, see I’m a rider,
If it go down I’ma ride for my brothers,
Die for my sisters, regardless of colour,
Now they saying I’m cold ’cause I only roll with a chosen few,
But I ain’t anti-social, just anti-colonial,
Keep an eye out for the jacks, they settin’ traps
Blackfella raw anti-government raps
Recognise I’m a rebel for the cause
Fight to the end, I put it down for my squad
Never back down man, you know I stand tall,
Cause they can stop one, but they can’t stop us all
In that pulsing vein, Darah assembled a full squad of Aboriginal rappers to guest on “Blackfella Revolutionary”. The track was mixed by Felon of the DTA Mob after Darah initially had problems with it. “He gets major props for that,” says Darah.
“‘Blackfella Revolutionary’ was important to me because it shows that the things I’m speaking on throughout the album aren’t just limited to me. There are others out there who are feeling the same. I also feel that it’s important that we, as Aboriginal people, present strong positive images of ourselves to counter a lot of the negative images portrayed by the mainstream media.”
Blackfella revolutionary, militant minded
Far too long, the people been blinded
To the systems of control we remain defiant
Never back down, I stand on the shoulders of giants
My elders and my ancestors, uncles and aunts
Give us strength to overcome whatever’s in our path
One time for the youth, the future leaders
Stand up for the cause, the people need ya
Brave and strong, I fear none
Fight back, get free, and run
Stop and breathe, think and move
Plan and plot, talk and do
Live, strive, my people go hard
Aim up high, reach so far
Be upright, take time and plan
Blackfella revolutionary I am
“Someone once told me that the education provided by the system will not teach you how to overcome the system,” says Darah. “That’s what ‘Revolutionary Mind State’ is about. I open each verse by saying, ‘In school they taught me the theory of evolution, in the streets they taught me theories of revolution.’
“It’s about the fact that we don’t really need to be validated or authenticated by the state or the constitution or anyone else if we can find value in ourselves. And it’s not a slight against education – I love education – I’m just saying education is not limited to the confines of a government institution. Knowledge has no master.”
In school I learned the theory of evolution
In the streets they taught me about theories of revolution
Aboriginal born raised we don’t need your constitution
You say we are the problem, I say we’re the solution
Revolutionary Mind State,
It’s time my people get your mind straight,
They say the music increasing the crime rate,
I say the system tryna keep us trapped, you gotta stay awake
Of the album‘s closing song “I Believe In Revolution”, Darah says: “It was the final song written for the album, but I had the idea for a long time. I already had the album title in mind when I began the album, so when I was finishing I felt that I wanted to end on a high note and show that although the album itself is kind of aggressive, I’m actually optimistic about the future.
“It’s like, when I look around society and I see so many things that I don’t agree with, it can really weigh you down and be heavy on your heart, but I find that I’m often inspired when I meet people out there actively working to make the world better.
“It’s those people out there who are consciously creating a better world that reaffirms my belief in humanity and it shows me that revolution is not something that is abstract or something that will occur one day in the future. Revolution is happening in the present day, and that inspires me.”
To all the revolutionary thinkers we must stand tall
Because success means nothing if it’s not for all
And you are much more powerful than you realise
Don’t believe what they’re selling you, you gotta use ya third eye
‘Cause deep down inside, we all know that we ain’t free
And we can do better, if we work together
Forever, ain’t got time to waste fighting each other
Black, brown, yellow, red or white, we’re all brothers
I believe in revolution
I believe in revolution
I believe in revolution
I believe in revolution