Michael Jalaru Torres
Better Things to Come as Kee’ahn Prepares For Treaty Day Out and the Release of New Music
Kee’ahn, a Kuku Yalanji, Jirrbal and Zenadth Kes artist based in Melbourne/Naarm, will perform at this weekend’s Treaty Day Out alongside Briggs, Dan Sultan, No Fixed Address and Bumpy.
Singer-songwriter Kee’ahn grew up in Townsville/Gurrumbilbarra on Wulgurukaba and Bindal Country. They relocated to Melbourne/Naarm in 2018 to pursue music, appearing on a couple of singles with Yorta Yorta rapper DRMNGNOW before releasing their debut solo single, “Better Things”, in May 2020.
“Better Things” was on the receiving end of multiple NIMA nominations in 2020, with Kee’ahn ultimately taking home the Archie Roach Foundation Award for emerging talent. They were invited to perform at the 2021 NIMAs and recently showcased at BIGSOUND.
On Saturday October 1st, Kee’ahn is performing as part of Treaty Day Out at the Bendigo Showgrounds on Dja Dja Wurrung Country. The single-day event is organised by the First People’s Assembly of Victoria, the group developing the demands that Traditional Owners of Country are taking to Treaty negotiations with the Victorian Government.
“Being a part of the Treaty Day Out event will just be an honour to support the local mob in their self-determination and their fight for justice and land back,” Kee’ahn says, speaking to Rolling Stone Australia while en route to collect their cousins from Melbourne Airport.
Kee’ahn, a Kuku Yalanji, Jirrbal and Zenadth Kes artist, is a settler on Kulin Nation land. And so, where Treaty is concerned, Kee’ahn respects the goals and framework laid out by the First People’s Assembly of Victoria.
“I’m just trying to be as open and supportive of what local mob want on their Country as I would want on my lands back home,” Kee’ahn says.
This weekend’s event is the second Treaty Day Out of the year. The first, which featured headline performances from rapper Briggs and the late Archie Roach, was held in Shepparton on Yorta Yorta Country back in February.
Yorta Yorta man Briggs is on board again this time, along with Arrente and Gurindji rock’n’roller Dan Sultan, Yuin rapper Nooky, Yorta Yorta songwriters Scott Darlow and Madi Colville-Walker and Indigenous reggae legends No Fixed Address, led by Pitjantjantjara and Mirning singer-songwriter Bart Willoughby.
“I’m really keen to meet more of the people in No Fixed Address,” says Kee’ahn. “I’ve met Uncle Bart a couple of times and he’s someone I’ve looked up to for a while.”
Kee’ahn is a close friend and fan of another of the lineup’s artists, Noongar soul singer Bumpy. “I love her and I was in the DRMNGNOW band with her and we went to BIGSOUND together,” Kee’ahn says. “I love her music so much.”
The evening prior to Treaty Day Out, Kee’ahn is playing a headline show at Melbourne’s Northcote Social Club. They’ll be performing several new songs at both shows. “This past year I’ve just been doing lots of writing sessions with people and collaborating,” Kee’ahn says.
The first of these collaborations to see official release is a song Kee’ahn made with Gumbaynggirr/Yamatji woman Emma Donovan. “That’s coming out through the Archie Roach Foundation project,” Kee’ahn says.
Donovan—whose album Crossover won the awards for Best Soul, Funk R&B or Gospel Act, Best Group and Best Album at the 2021 Music Victoria Awards—is one of several recognised names that Kee’ahn has been working with. The list also includes Alice Ivy, Milan Ring and Tia Gostelow.
“I just came out of lockdown and I was like, ‘Okay, I want to work with cool people whose music I love and who I want to learn from.’ And that’s what’s been happening,” Kee’ahn says.
Despite being barely two years old, “Better Things” has the aroma of a modern soul classic. It’s rooted in a gospel chord progression played on electric guitar and Kee’ahn’s strong but emotionally exposed lead vocals.
However, the classy execution of “Better Things” hasn’t stopped Kee’ahn from branching out on their recent collaborations. “I wanted to experiment more with my sound,” they say. “I’ve never felt locked into one genre, so working with different people has kind of helped me expand.”
For their sessions with Alice Ivy, Kee’ahn suggested channelling a vibe similar to acts like Kaytranada and Tyler, the Creator. “I just told her I wanted music that people could dance to,” Kee’ahn says.
“We just kind of geeked out on all this music and made a couple of songs together. It’s got a pop feel and definitely her production stuff that she does.”
Kee’ahn performs live accompanied by a band featuring a backing vocalist, drummer, guitarist and bass player. There’ll also be a horns player joining them for the Northcote Social Club gig.
“The work we’re doing is monumental, but this is an opportunity to come together, reflect on how far we’ve come and to have fun with mob. Our culture, our music, is deadly and we want to share that and to celebrate it all.”
Treaty Day Out 2022
No Fixed Address
Marlon x Rulla
MC Shelley Ware
Saturday, October 1st
Bendigo Showgrounds, Bendigo, Dja Dja Wurrung, VIC
Tickets: Treaty Day Out