Associate Professor Brenda L. Croft has a unique approach to her Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art course at the Australian National University.

9 May 2019

She starts each class with music — in particular songs in Indigenous language or with First Nations lyrics.

‘It is a great way to set the mood and stimulate discussion. Language and music are an integral part of First Nations’ culture, tied to storytelling and learning,” Professor Croft said.

Professor Croft is from the Gurindji/Malngin/Mudburra peoples from the Victoria River region of the Northern Territory and also has Anglo-Australian/German/Irish/Chinese heritage.

She believes that one of the most powerful and accessible ways to engage with history and linguistic and cultural diversity is by listening to and hearing about it.

Recognising that music is an easily accessible way to engage the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) created a Spotify playlist: Songs in Language: The Australian Indigenous Languages playlist. It’s an initiative promoting UNESCO’s International Year of Indigenous Languages.

‘The playlist is terrific with such great variety,’ Professor Croft said. ‘It has made sourcing Australian First Nations’ music so easy.’

The playlist includes up-and-comers such as Young Australian of the Year Baker Boy and Eurovision Song Contest finalist Electric Dreams as well as classic Australian artists such as Yothu Yindi, Christine Anu and Gurrumul.

There are also some more obscure artists, such as Waak Waak Djungi and Maroochy Bambah.

“It's really important to these artists that their recordings are featured alongside other more mainstream music. This inclusion helps connect the dots between different styles and artists,” said Michael Kucyk, Head of the Efficient Space record label.

There are also non-Indigenous artists on the playlist who incorporate Indigenous languages in to their music, such as Shane Howard and the Preatures.

The playlist shows how all Australians can connect with Indigenous languages, whether through songs, books, using traditional place names or learning phrases in their local language.

‘We are seeing engagement with new audiences through the playlist which helps us tell the story of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia and create opportunities for people to encounter, engage with, and be transformed by that story,’ AIATSIS CEO Craig Ritchie said.

A large range of Indigenous languages feature on the playlist include Yolgnu, Kala Lagaw Ya, Darug, Muruwari, Pitjantjatjara, Gubbi Gubbi, Anindilyakwa and many more.

With suggestions from online audiences, the playlist has grown from 35 to 50 songs and it will keep growing throughout the year.

‘For thousands of years, songs have been one of the main conduits for transferring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages and stories between generations,’ Craig Ritchie said.

‘In a way, this playlist is a contemporary expression of that tradition, opening it up to the whole world. It also has tangible benefits to the artists themselves, who receive royalties from plays on Spotify as well as exposure of their music and culture to wider audiences.’

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Waak Waak Djungi's Jimmy Djamunba at Miwal, a special Dhawa place near Ramingining
Photo’s courtesy of Efficient Space record label

Photo credit:

Photo’s courtesy of Efficient Space record label

Main photo: Maroochy Postcard from Maroochy Barambah's original 1995 release.

Article photo: Waak Waak Djungi's Jimmy Djamunba at Miwal, a special Dhawa place near Ramingining.

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