The Modern Songman - Preserving Indigenous Culture and Language through Music

Today for almost everyone it is a necessity to have a good road trip playlist as we travel from place to place. The accompaniment of music on a journey is something that can elate the spirit and soothe the soul. Combining music and travel is not something new, traditionally First Nations Peoples used music and song as a way to travel through what we know as Songlines. These Songlines would be performed by a skilled Songman.

Yilila performing at Barunga Festival. Image sourced from Northern Territory Government Website.

When talking about a Songman, most of us may think of him as a musician or a man who strings a poetic assortment of words together to tell a story. While all this is true, in traditional Indigenous Australian culture, Songman was the title of a well known and respected male tasked to create, learn, perform and also hand down songs to the next generation. These songs were about the land, Dreamtime, and creation. They were songs that guided Aboriginal Tribes across Australia and connected First Nations People with the land, each other and their ancestors. Songlines are a true, spiritual embodiment of the land, people and culture. For anyone who is blessed enough to listen to them being performed, the traditional songs provide a sense of timelessness, connectedness and a collective spirituality that flows and draws from the power of nature. 

In line with our recent blog post "Travelling Across Australia Through Indigenous Songlines" and as a celebration of Indigenous Australian culture, we have compiled a list of Indigenous Musicians. The list is a collection of varied music styles from some popular and other more unknown Indigenous artists. While some of the artists below are not Songmen in the traditional sense, they are musicians that through the use of language and music continue to tell the stories of their people, whilst also keeping their traditional language alive.

Indigenous “Songlines” Playlist

A.B Original (Hip Hop) A.B Original are an Australian Hip Hop Duo, comprising of Briggs a Yorta Yorta man and Trials a Ngarrindjeri man. They are a voice for Aboriginal Australian issues.

Alice Skye (Indie) Alice sky is an Australian Singer Songwriter. Identifying as a Wergia/ Wemba woman from Western Victoria Australia.

Baker Boy (Hip Hop) Baker Boy is known for performing his original Hip-Hop songs which are a combination of Yolnu Matha and English Language.

DENNI (Electronic/ Hip Hop/ Indie Pop) Denni is a Tasmanian Aboriginal artist. She is a proud Pakana woman passionate about music and performance whose music is constantly evolving.

Dhapanbal Yunupingu (Electronic/ Rock/ Roots) Dhapanbal is a Gumatj Woman from Birany Birany country and is one of 6 daughters of Yothu Yindi. Her connection to culture can be heard  through her music.

Djakapurra Munarryun(Traditional) Djakapurra is a Munyarryun man from Yirrkala country, he has notably performed alongside Yothu Yindi and Christine Anu.

Docker River Band (Desert Reggae) Docker River Band is comprised of 5 young men, hailing from Kaltikajars Aboriginal Community in the central desert region of the NorthernTerritory. The songs are written in their native language Pitjantjatjara and English.

DRMNGNOW (Electronic Hip Hop) DRMNGNOW is an independent Artist based in Naarm/Birraranga.

East Journey (Indie/ Pop/ Rock) East Journey originally hailing from North East Arnhem Land, is an exciting fusion of rock and acoustic with the traditional sounds of the yidaki and bilma.

Electric Fields (Electronic) Electric fields combine Electric-Soul music with Aboriginal culture, singing in Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara and English.

Emily Wurramurra (Indie Pop) Emily Wurramurra is Brisbane based musician originally from the island Groote Eylandt Northern Territory and performs songs in Anindilyakwa and English.

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu (Folk)The late Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu is a renowned singer that combined western and traditional Indigenous Australian music styles, singing in Yolongu and English.

Lonely Boys (Punk Rock) The Lonely Boys are from Ngukurr, a remote Arnhemland community 700km South East Darwin

Luke Daniel Peacock (Indie Pop Rock) Luke is a Brisbane based musician and is a descendant of the Meriam people of Eastern Torres Strait Island

Mambali (Dance/ Pop) Mumbali come from Numbulwar in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Their songs are of the Dreamtime and are about country, culture and are mostly sung in language. Mambali believe that through music the next generation will be reminded of where they are from and connect with and grow in understanding of their culture.

Miiesha (Electronic Pop) Miiesha is a proud Pitjantjatjara/Torres Strait Islander woman, that sings of her people and community. Inspired by the sounds of RnB, Gospel and Soul, and the power of spoken word poetry, Miiesha’s music seeks to bring people together to help educate and inspire.

Stanley Gawurra (Traditional) Stanley Garrurra is from Milingimbi Island, Arnhem Land  and sings of his songlines in Gupapuyngu Language in the album Ratja Yaliyali.

Sue Ray (Singer Songwriter) Sue Ray is an Australian Indigenous/singer songwriter whose sound is described as a crossover of country and blues.

Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (Classical) While the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra is not an Indigenous Performer or group, the album ‘There Is an Island’ composed by Don Kay, features a musical rendition of the Legend of 'Moine', a Tasmanian Dreamtime story. The audience is able to connect with this story through this classical ensemble.

Thelma Plum (Indie Roots) Thelma Plum is a Delungra born, Australian Indigenous singer songwriter whose debut album “Better in Blak” released in 2019 peaked at No.4 on the ARIA Albums chart

Tjupi Band (Dessert Reggae) Tjupi Band are a Central Australian, Indigenous band from the Papunya community (Northern Territory). They sing in Luritja and English.

Warumpi Band (Country/ Rock) Warumpi band, established in the 1980s are an Australian country and rock group from Papunya, Northern Territory and sing in Luitja and English Language. This band has toured across Australia with one of their notable songs being ‘My Island Home’

Yilila (Roots) Yilila are from a remote Aboriginal community in Arnhem Land Northern Territory and perform high energy roots music alongside traditional Red Flag dancing. Yilila sing in Wubuy and English Language. 

Ziggy Ramo (Hip Hop) Ziggy Ramo is a Sydney based Indigenous rapper whose debut album “Black Thoughts” is a journey through collective trauma and spiritual renewal.

Here at Yarn we aim to be a platform that celebrates and promotes First Nations Peoples. The telling of Dreamtime stories and expressions of culture are an integral part of life for Indigenous Australian Peoples. These expressions of culture are communicated through many different forms including music and of course visual art - our focus here at Yarn.