It’s been more than 30 years since Yothu Yindi released its iconic anthem Treaty, catapulting Aboriginal issues onto the world stage and into popular culture.
Now that legendary band is headed to Canberra Theatre Centre (CTC) to headline this year’s Reconciliation Concert.
The multi-award winners will share the stage with host Tahalianna Soward-Mahanga and influential young Canberran First Nations artists Alinta Barlow and Stewart Barton in a celebration of their voices, stories and music.
For Barlow, it’s the chance of a lifetime.
“Performing in the same line-up as Yothu Yindi … is beyond what I would have dreamed as a little kid,” she says.
“I still remember hearing Treaty for the first time. If little Alinta could see me now, she probably wouldn’t believe it. I’m so excited; it’s going to be unreal.”
The ACT was the first Australian state or territory to recognise Reconciliation Day as a public holiday, marking the start of National Reconciliation Week.
CTC has mounted the Reconciliation Day Concert each year since 2018 on the eve of Reconciliation Day, bringing music lovers together on Ngunnawal Country and uniting some of the country’s strongest voices in one powerful line-up.
The National Reconciliation Week 2023 theme is “Be a Voice for Generations”. It urges all Australians to use their power, words and votes to create a more just Australia for all of us.
As the nation’s political centre, Canberra is a poignant location for this year’s concert with Reconciliation Day set against the added backdrop of The Voice to Parliament.
“Having a voice is such an incredibly important thing. I know I am very lucky to have a platform at this level to make my voice heard,” Barlow says.
“When it comes to First Nations voices, so often people are being heard but not truly listened to.
“Treaty is an expression of this. It’s such a powerful song with an important message and shows the power of music to carry a voice to the world in a way that you can’t help but listen.”
Barlow first heard Treaty at the National Film & Sound Archives when she participated in a green screen music video activity.
“I think I was about five at the time,” she says. “I don’t think I had more than a vague idea what it was about. But I certainly know now.”
Yothu Yindi’s career has spanned multiple decades, combining Yolgnu voices and rhythms with rock ‘n’ roll and electronic sounds.
Its hit singles and albums, Treaty, Tribal Voice and Timeless Land earned the group eight ARIA awards.
The group won hearts in performances worldwide and in Australia, where it performed alongside the likes of Midnight Oil, Paul Kelly, Neil Young and Santana.
In 2012 Yothu Yindi was inducted alongside the greats of Australian music into the ARIA Hall of Fame.
The group’s performance will be perfectly complemented by Barlow, who has begun incorporating Ngunnawal language into her beautiful songs. She hopes to revive and share her love for this language with others.
“I am beyond excited to be supporting one of the most influential musical acts from my childhood, but am even more excited that this is at such an important time of year for First Nations people of this country,” she says.
She’ll be joined by the soulful voice and rich guitar virtuosity of Stewart Barton, who grew up surrounded by music and was determined to become a guitarist. Initially self-taught, he developed his skills through programs for emerging Indigenous artists in the ACT region.
Bringing it all together as MC will be Wiradjuri teen Tahalianna Soward-Mahanga, who made it to the blind audition stage of last year’s season of The Voice.
“This concert is going to be filled with a huge range of important voices of First Nations people, hopefully bringing to light the important issues within a very fun and exciting program,” Barlow says.
“It’s going to be a cracking way to kick off National Reconciliation Week.”
The Reconciliation Day concert will be held at the Canberra Theatre Centre on Sunday 28 May. Tickets are $59 – book here.