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Byron Shire
February 27, 2021

Interview with Kamahi Djordon King, member of Yothu Yindi and The Treaty Project

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Yothu Yindi and the Treaty Project

Lismore City Hall | Saturday | 7.30pm | $65

It’s been twenty-five years since Yothu Yindi released Treaty, a landmark song that sent a message right to the heart of Australia about the need for a treaty with Australia’s First Nations peoples. Vocalist for new ensemble Yothu Yindi and The Treaty Project, Kamahi Djordon King spoke with The Echo ahead of his performance at Lismore City Hall.

Twenty years on, how much progress has there been towards creating a treaty with Australia’s First Nations peoples? When someone like Tony Abbott is given the job as special envoy on Indigenous affairs, how can you retain hope that the government has the best intentions of first nations at heart?

There is a groundswell of non-Indigenous people in support of our plea, but within parliament things have not changed much at all – the simple fact that 25 years on, we are still singing Treaty and that it is still relevant today shows that. When people like Tony Abbott get put in charge of our affairs that does not dwindle our hope, it only makes us stronger and louder in the fight for what are basically our human rights. What people don’t realise is that Australia is the only Commonwealth-associated country to not have a treaty with its first peoples.

The world is getting sick of white male privilege. The other day I said to a friend, ‘One day I hope that we have an Indigenous woman as prime minister’. Right now that future seems a long way off. Can you ever see this country being anything else but a place for rich old white men? What can ordinary people do to change that?

Ordinary people can start looking up the true history of this country and question the stigma and stereotypes bestowed upon our people. We are still here and continue to fight for our rights; when we do, we are called whingers. I wouldn’t be too happy about Obama either; he is not Indigenous to America. The Native Americans are still in similar circumstances to us in Australia even though they have been playing the white game since 1492, so nearly 300 years longer than we have. I believe it will stay a place for rich old white men for a while until people start educating themselves. By this, I mean actively getting to know someone in your local Indigenous community, ask about their history and compare it to your own life. Put yourselves in their shoes so to speak.

Why do you think Treaty struck a chord 25 years ago? Even white fellas who didn’t know what a treaty was were singing along to it and chanting it! What did the song mean to you at the time?

Aside from being one of the best songs that year it was great to see an Aboriginal-led band from a small place in the Northern Territory hitting a chord with people across the world and with such a political message. I was in school at the time and a lot of my balanda (white) friends were singing the song and dancing around to it; they just loved it. For me it was a landmark in my life: I was able to understand the fighting that my parents and relatives were doing and had done for most of my life. The song meant that there was hope, to break through the mainstream.

What would a treaty mean for First Nations peoples?

It would be the beginning of some very old wrongs being righted and for us having a say in our own affairs and hopefully abolishing the need for the Tony Abbotts of the world to be managing our affairs. It would mean that a lot of our ancestors did not die in vain.

Why do you use music to communicate such a potent political message? Why is music so powerful?

Music is so powerful because it is food for the soul. The hook of the song happens to be the most important message of all. Our music resonates with people, even when the songs are in Yolngu Matha (language). It is almost as if we are inviting you on a journey and you can’t help but accept.

Tell me about the lineup that you have for the new show?

Not only do we have two generations of three founding members of Yothu Yindi involved, but I would best describe it as a fluid collective of musicians and performing artists including special guest appearances that vary from show to show. At any one time there could be between 11 and 14 people on the stage, a glorious and inclusive cross-cultural celebration with a very positive message that we are all very proud of.

How does the electronic component change what Yothu Yindi and The Treaty Project bring to the stage?

The electronic element brings the songs to the forefront again so that the Gen Ys and Millennials of the world don’t miss out on what we had. The song structures are the same, only the instrumental is new. It is exciting, to say the least… a new take on a classic vibe.

What should we expect for your Lismore show?

It’s really quite magical. There are elements of ancient Yolngu song fused with modern electronica and musicianship, with traditional dance woven throughout, creating a narrative arc that is really quite enthralling. The show comprises several reworked Yothu Yindi songs plus two or three new songs especially composed for this show and performed by our emerging Yolngu artists.

Yothu Yindi and the Treaty Project at Lismore City Hall on Saturday at 7.30pm. Tix are $65 on lismorecityhall.com.au.

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