The power of hip-hop


The power of hip-hop
Desert Pea Media has released a compilation of songs and videos created with 10 indigenous communities around regional and remote Australia, an initiative to empower young people to create dialogue around social and cultural issues. We chat with Desert Pea Media founding member and creative director Toby Finlayson

Can you tell me a bit about Desert Pea story and how it began?

Desert Pea Media was founded in 2002 by Toby Finlayson and a group of friends and family, as a tool to create social change through collaborative storytelling. It’s about using the process of storytelling and art-making to create dialogue around serious social and cultural issues, and to advocate awareness and educate audiences. It’s been a long journey (over a decade) and Song Nation Volume 1 is the first ever official release, something we are all very excited about and it symbolises a new age for our organisation in terms of scope and sustainability.

What are some of the key issues it wishes to draw attention to?

There are a number of multi dimensional issues that are prevalent for young people in remote Indigenous communities. These are connected to issues of isolation, generation trauma, health, employment opportunities and the list goes on. There are massive gaps in life expectancy, social engagement, mental and physical health etc etc. For young people it’s about identity – in many communities people suffer from loss of language, dance, song and cultural heritage, as a direct result of consecutive government policy such as the White Australia Policy and Assimilation. This loss of identity is extremely damaging for young people today, and there is a strong movement about re-connecting young people to culture and country through music and arts, finding pride and self belief through cultural identity.

Tell me about Song Nation Vol 1 and the process behind its creation.

Song Nation Volume 1 represents over a decade of work. 11 songs and music videos from 10 communities all around Australia, all of which tell important stories about community, culture and country. The production is a collaboration between Desert Pea Media and The Smugglers of Light Foundation, and involved a series of media mentoring programs in schools and with community organisations during 2012/13. We received funding from UN Ltd, and also from APRA to support the projects, and we are all very excited to see Song Nation Volume 1 come to fruition.

How did the partnership with the Cairns State High School come about? What was the significance of this particular school?

Aunty Gail Mabo is a close friend and the patron of The Smugglers of Light Foundation. She has a close friend Delores Scott who works at Cairns High School as a teacher, and has a close relationship with a group of Indigenous students at the school. We invited Cairns High to be a part of the 2013 Song Nation tour and spent three days writing, recording and shooting the music video. Several young people in the group had spent years singing with the Gondwana Children’s Choir, and the group just happened to be incredibly talented and intelligent songwriters. It was a really wonderful experience for everyone, and we developed some strong and lasting friendships.

You worked with Auntie Gail Mabo on this release too. What did she bring to the fold?

Aunty Gail Mabo is a close friend and mentor, and joins the Song Nation crew as a choreography and cultural advisor – she also invited us to deliver a project on her traditional country of Murray (Mer) Island in The Torres Strait in 2013, which was a huge honour for us. She features on the track at number 8 on the compilation – ‘Small Island Big Fight’ (), along with local Meriam artist Tamyok and young people from the local high school. Her input and support on the programs is a huge part of the process, and she brings a wealth of understanding and authenticity to the Song Nation projects.

Where do funds raised by the sale of Song Nation Vol. 1 go towards?

All proceeds from the release go directly to creating more opportunities and programs for the young people featured on the album. We are hoping to attract resources and audiences so we can extend the reach of the programs and create more opportunities for young people and communities around the country. The big one is our internal operations. We need funding to operate, and we don’t rely on government to provide those resources, we are looking to expand our audiences and engage more resources from other areas so that we can access more communities and young people. This involves training and development for artists, professional development for young people, more teams on the ground running projects and a dream of sustainability for Desert Pea Media.

Do you have a favourite track on the record and if so, what is it?

It’s such a difficult question. In every community we have built friendships and partnerships that are very important to us, each song represents a unique and very special process, so it’s really difficult to separate them. The first single Built to Last is a great track – it’s also amazing to see the development of The Colli Crew and the evolutionary journey of MC Boomali from participant to artist in his own right (track 5). The journey to extremely remote Tjuntjuntjara – 680kms Northeast of Kalgoorlie in the WA desert was an amazing, humbling experience for everybody involved (and very difficult to find…)

What is Desert Pea working on next?

Desert Pea Media is constantly working on productions. We have three finished tracks in line for Song Nation Volume 2 – from Dubbo, NSW, Coonamble NSW, Palm Island in QLD and Lake Cargellico in NSW (we were joined by Aussie rap icon Ozi Batla as a facilitator on the last two, and the Dubbo track was produced by Monkey Marc from Combat Wombat). We are really excited about the future and more inspired and passionate than ever. Check to get in contact.



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