Rising Indigenous rapper Tasman Keith supports the push for Constitutional recognition of Australia’s First Nations and a voice to Parliament but he’s not waiting around for change to happen.
On the bill for Midnight Oil’s Makarrata Live five-concert tour, playing Stage 88 in Commonwealth Park on 17 March, the ambitious 24-year-old Gumbaynggirr man from Bowraville wants to make an impact in his community and beyond with his music and words rather than getting frustrated at the slow pace of change.
“I’m at the point where I’m not really waiting on much, let me go and make the changes in my community I need to see, how can I reach out to my cousins and the black community, rather than sitting around hoping an outside source is offering change. If these things happen cool – but what’s more important for us as a people is taking our own power and position in this country,” Keith told Region Media.
He was honoured to be asked to join the Oils tour along with a host of other Indigenous artists such as Dan Sultan, Troy Cassar-Daley, Leah Flanagan and Alice Skye, and will perform with the band in a special collaboration.
The tour takes the Oils’ Makarrata Project mini-album and its support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which calls for a Makarrata, or “truth telling”, to account for the theft of lands and displacement of First Nations people, directly to the public.
Keith, an Oils fan through his parents and a local community that could directly identify with the band’s message, hopes a voice to Parliament would just be the start of greater representation for Australia’s diverse First Nations but believes music can sometimes be a more effective way of achieving change than political statements.
“With politics small change happens over a long time but with music a lot more people are in tune and really listening to voice directly from the people rather than representatives,” he says.
“At times music can do a lot more than politics.”
But don’t put Keith in a box because he has bigger vision that just being a black artist and prefers not to be labelled as such.
“The more we step outside the box of that Indigenous artist realm the more we can be accessible and access the rest of the world,” he said.
Keith has a burning ambition to succeed not just in this country but internationally, not just for his own sake but to show his people it can be done.
That means working constantly at his craft and being ready, like an athlete, to perform – especially when you get a call from a band like Midnight Oil.
“My music is trying to push the international boundaries and make a sound that represents my community – still stay true to my integrity but also accessible to the outside world to let people in on what’s going on here,” Keith says.
“What drives it is being that person here who can help cross genres and cross over lanes and really bring more sense of understanding to Indigenous Australia and Australia as a whole.”
Keith has performed in Canberra twice before but the Stage 88 gig will be special after a year of COVID-19 restrictions.
“I’m super thankful to play shows at such a scale again after almost a whole year not being able to have shows over a 100 people,” he said.
“It’s the biggest tour since COVID went down, going to be hopefully turning the page for live music.”
Oils drummer Rob Hirst said the band is fortunate that so many of the collaborators on the mini-album can join them on stage, and hopes one or two more may still be able to step up as well.
“The message of these songs feel increasingly relevant as public awareness of the Uluru Statement continues to grow,” he says.
“It’s time for Australia to stop dragging the chain on this issue and we call upon the government to begin the process of constitutional recognition for First Australians and to also heed their call for a Voice to the Federal Parliament.”
Midnight Oil will also perform a number of their other iconic Reconciliation songs and be joined on stage by backing vocalist Liz Stringer and saxophonist Andy Bickers.
Sydney bassist Adam Ventoura will join the band after the sudden passing of longtime member Bones Hillman late last year.
Makarrata is a word in the Yolngu language meaning a coming together after a struggle, facing the facts of wrongs and living again in peace, and has been used for many years as a term for a treaty.
Tickets on sale at Ticketmaster.