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50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #22: Archie Roach

Briggs reflects on the impact, legacy, power, and sheer importance of one of Australian music’s true originals, Archie Roach.

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time - Archie Roach

Tony Mott*; Tristan Edouard*

In December of 2020, Rolling Stone Australia released a special edition issue which looks at the 50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time, paying tribute to the best and most impactful artists in Australian music history. While it would have been easy for the editors and writers of the publication to profess their love of the listed artists, the decision was instead made for those who found themselves inspired by these world-renowned names to share their own testimonials of why these artists deserve to make the list.

In celebration of the issue’s release in December, we’re counting down the full 50 artists and their accompanying testimonials in this ongoing online feature. If you want to get your hands on an physical copy of the magazine, be sure to subscribe now to experience the double-length edition featuring some of Australia’s best and brightest discussing the finest names in local music.

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #22: Archie Roach (by Briggs)

I was watching a documentary about the McDonald’s Monopoly game. It talked about how they introduced the Happy Meal in 1979 and I thought, “man, I don’t remember life without McDonald’s”. Then I was thinking about what Archie Roach was within communities. For me, even before I heard an Archie Roach song, I knew who he was. I knew what that name was synonymous with.

We never played his music in the house when I was growing up; we weren’t a musical house. And all my cousins were listening to rap music, so it wasn’t like I was getting Archie Roach drummed into me as a kid. Archie Roach wasn’t this figure that was drummed into the soundtrack of my life because truthfully, I didn’t hear his music until much later.

It goes to show, the need for an Aboriginal rockstar was something that was really championed by all communities. At the time, we had him, the Warumpi Band, Jimmy Little (because he was from the same mission as my dad), and Archie; that was it.

We always had, we always knew, Archie Roach. His name resonated within the community as a superhero. Everybody knew that name. Even before I knew the music, or knew who Archie Roach was, I knew of the name. It’s a cool name too – it works.

“His name resonated within the community as a superhero.”

As you get older, you get to understand things more, understand what they mean. You really get to appreciate what his story is, and the intensity of his track “Took The Children Away”. I didn’t get to really appreciate Archie Roach’s music properly until I was smart enough to get it, to understand what it meant in the industry. To me, it meant longevity, truthfulness, honesty. Those are the things I really associate with Archie Roach.

Although the music we make is like chalk and cheese, there’s a definite mutual respect between him and I and the salute to artistry. His stories resonate. His stories tell a story of Melbourne and that era that is synonymous with Paul Kelly and artists who were starting the music scene we have now.

Archie’s career really drove me when I decided I was going to be a rapper. I thought, “Okay you can have a career and it can last 40 years, but you have to be smart, you have to be good.” Archie Roach taught me there’s a difference between being the best and being the greatest. It’s about vulnerability and what the artist lets you in on, what they share with you. I think that’s what really separates someone from being technically the best and being the greatest. Being the greatest means you transcended the genre, and what you do impacts culture. You change culture around the world. You change the discussion.

Everyone from the gutter to the top resonates with Archie’s stories, his artistry, his talent, his history and all his work. His four decade-long career and the fact he resonates with different walks of life are testament to that. You see the way an artist like him gets accolades and who is in attendance to pay respect; it’s not by accident. Even to remove myself as a friend, or a fan, and to look at it pragmatically on paper, the facts all add up. If you took Archie’s resumé and put it anywhere, it would land. There’s no argument against that.