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‘Our Voices Will Be Heard’: BLAKTIVISM Is Back to Celebrate First Nations Music

King Stingray, Tasman Keith, Emma Donovan, and many more incredible First Nations artists are gathering at Melbourne’s Hamer Hall this Friday

King Stingray

Sam Brumby

This Friday, one of the highlights of ALWAYS LIVE‘s 2023 program will occur when BLAKTIVISM takes over Melbourne’s Hamer Hall for a massive celebration of First Nations artists and music.

BLAKTIVISM 2023 boasts a lineup equally mixing rising talent from the next generation alongside true living legends, from King Stingray to Emma Donovan, Bart Willoughby to Tasman Keith.

It promises to be collaborative, emotional, explosive, and, above all, celebratory of Blak Cultures and Artivism.

Ahead of the third edition of BLAKTIVISM, Rolling Stone AU/NZ caught up with Gaba Musik’s Artistic Director Deline Briscoe to find out more about this year’s theme, the current strength of First Nations artists, and what the future holds for BLAKTIVISM.

BLAKTIVISM 2023 takes place at Hamer Hall on Friday, December 1st. Ticket information can be found here

Rolling Stone AU/NZ: BLAKTIVISM 2023 is all about ‘Skylore’. Can you tell our readers a bit more about that theme?

Deline Briscoe: Skylore connects us all! We can travel across the map without colonial borders, the skymap that follows our Songlines that has been sung for hundreds of thousands of years across the regions.

Skylore comes from the concept that across this region and the world we are all connected by the map in the sky. We follow the journey from the rise of the Evening Star in the Kulin Nations to the rise of the Morning Star in West Papua. No colonial borders can undo those cultural connections that we have across all of this region. At BLAKTIVISM we have West Papua, Torres Strait, and mob across the country represented. We are connected culturally.

How was the curatorial process for BLAKTIVISM? There are so many exciting First Nations artists coming through right now. 

Always start with the music, a powerful setlist, then approach the artists. It’s incredible to see that our next generation has so many opportunities, so actually a lot of decisions depend on artists’ availability in the end. BLAKTIVISM actually feels like a family gathering on and off stage, because each of us already have solid relationships across the cast and crew.

It must be wonderful to have King Stingray at the event. Does it make you proud to see a First Nations band doing so well on a national scale? It feels like only a matter of time until they start making inroads globally too. 

More and more I feel so grateful for our pioneers of Blak Musicians and Artists who made the inroads for the next gen to come through. I am a strong believer in “See it, be it,” and King Stingray certainly are a part of the legacy of Yothu Yindi. I’m really looking to watching their journey to a worldwide takeover!

Away from BLAKTIVISM 2023, are there any other rising First Nations artists you think our readers should be listening to? 

We can’t fit everyone into the BLAKTIVISM program. Some of the other incredible artists I love working with are IZY, Waari, Tamala Shelton, Jungaji, Kee’ahn, Jem Cassar-Daley, Barkaa, Yirrmal, Dean Brady, and more.

I have enjoyed watching the journey of Emily Wurrumara,  JK-47, Inkabee, Ziggy Ramo, Sa’chem, and there are some really talented songwriters coming through from regional areas such as Cassandra Wiliams, Felicity Schreiber, RAHNAE, and Layla Havana.

How much collaboration is involved on the night? And how have rehearsals gone?

Rehearsals are underway this week, bringing the Kulin Nation Songwomen, Yolngu Songmen, First Nations Performers, West Papuan Singers and Dancers all backed by the world-class Gaba Musik Band. There are some powerful collaborative performances throughout the BLAKTIVISM set that you certainly won’t see/hear anywhere else.

How did you plan out the setlist? 

The setlist is planned, then changed about 300 times before the rehearsals!! But seriously, I have been working with Airileke Ingram (Music Director) and Nigel Jamieson (Dramaturg) to carefully craft the musical journey to capture the intimacy and present big powerful moments threading music, dance and  visual storytelling together.

This is the third edition of BLAKTIVISM in Melbourne, is that right? How do you want the event to look in 2024 and beyond? 

Yes! Naarm has experienced BLAKTIVISM twice already! [It] feels like BLAKTIVISM could become a mini-festival –  2024 lookout!! Every year the BLAKTIVISM program is getting bigger, we [are] able to include more First Nations creatives in the BLAKTIVISM program with added support of Songlines Aboriginal Music Corporation and Clothing The Gaps.

It’s obviously a sensitive subject, but with BLAKTIVISM 2023 coming so soon after the unsuccessful Indigenous Voice referendum, will the emotions be extra charged on the night? Will everyone involved feel more motivated to celebrate the music and stories of Aboriginal people?

BLAKTIVISM presents some the country’s biggest voices in the history of Blak Artivism with Bart Willoughby’s Blak Anthems, Tasman Keith’s razor-sharp lyrics, Emma Donovan’s soulful power, Kaiit’s unapologetic truth, Birdz & Fred Leone bringing some fire, Suga Cane Mamas revealing the slave trade era of this country, and Sorong Samarai connecting with Yolngu raising the morning star in cultural solidarity.

Everyone on stage and in the audience will be motivated by the intimate, compelling, energetic, celebratory, dynamic truth-telling. Our hearts will be warmed, spirits rejuvenated and of course our voices will be heard loud and clear at BLAKTIVISM 2023!