High-stakes crime series Sunshine features a group not depicted before in Australian drama: Melbourne's South Sudanese community. The four-part miniseries focuses on high school basketballer Jacob, played by first-time actor and NBA hopeful Wally Elnour, and also includes a number of Elnour's real-life friends from the South Sudanese community in smaller roles.
It's not just on television that South Sudanese Australians are starting to make their presence felt. Recently, immigrants and first generation Australian children of immigrants from the East African nation have really emerged on the local hip-hop scene. Performers like those featured in Sunshine are coming up all across the country – not only storytelling and educating about their own struggles, but also tapping into the global community and international themes of hip-hop.
Machar Wuor aka Mac-Eleven arrived in Australia in 2004 and is based in Melbourne. He was approached by the producers of Sunshine to be involved in the program and ended up appearing alongside friend Elnour as an extra.
“Music is very important to our community because it’s a way of communicating how we feel, and it also gives us a voice to tell our side of the story,” he says. “Music can carry a message that is relative to real-life situations. There are so many talented young kids here in Melbourne who don’t get enough support. We are portrayed as violent thugs in the media so much that the public starts to believe we are all bad people. Just because you find one bad apple doesn’t mean you should give up on the whole tree right?”
Historically, music has been important to the people of South Sudan, Wuor says, and he has taken cues and inspiration from his own immediate family.
“My mother is a South Sudanese musician,” he says. “She influences and inspires me the most. My Uncle PanChol Deng Ajang is also a South Sudanese musician who is considered a legend within the South Sudanese community – he composed many songs that were seen as counselling messages during Sudan’s civil war in the 1990s.”
When asked to comment on who else is making great music in Melbourne, Wuor enthusiastically name-drops a slew of artists from his homeland.
“There are a lot of dope South Sudanese MCs and singers in Melbourne, and it’s only a matter of time before the rest of Australia takes notice,” he says. “Krown is probably one the sickest MCs coming out of Melbourne right now. He stands out because he's got an old school vibe. He recently released his debut EP, Wake Me Up – the tape really goes hard. He is really dedicated to his craft and I think he is going places.
"Another MC that stands out is Petero Thony – dude has not yet released a song I don't like. "No No (Hennessy)" is still my jam. Jag is another producer, rapper and singer – he can do it all. We’ve made a couple of songs together (not yet released) which I think are just pure fire.”
Sydney based rapper Gabreal MC also arrived in Australia in 2004. He says he’s excited to be part of the Australian hip-hop culture at this point in history. He approaches the music business with a familiar do-it-yourself approach and sees the benefits of self-management.
“There were a few promoters that supported me from the start, but in this time of my career I do everything on my own – it's easy like that," he explains. "The music industry is different now – everyone is doing it on their own. It's indie grinding.”
Like a lot of his peers, Gabreal doesn’t rap in his language of birth, Dinka. He grew up in Australia and wants to speak to other Australians with his music. His aim is to get his music widely heard, and says the local scene is opening up more and more to artists like him.
“There are a lot of new acts coming out every day,” he says. “Music is easy to make now. Everyone can do it as long as you are willing to grind and work hard to get heard. There are new sounds in Australian hip-hop as everyone is just doing what they want to create. There are no more limits to making music.”
Giving other artists opportunities is something Gabreal also takes very seriously, which helps the community to grow. If he’s able to help out other artists by pushing them to radio and helping them get shows, then he will do it.
“There are a lot of younger upcoming artists from South Sudanese background – I'm proud to see big things happening. The most successful Australia South Sudanese is UV boi فوق بنفسجي – he’s out there doing sold out shows and is on every major Australian music festival.”
He’s very positive about where things are heading for himself as well.
“I have my own movement, 4EVER UNDERDOG, and I'm happy to see all types of people listening to my music,” he says in true entrepreneurial rapper fashion. “Sometime I'm amazed at my shows to see that many people coming.”
Other artists to watch
Adelaide-based artists Gabriel Akon aka DyspOra and Emmanuel Deng aka Eman have started their own label Playback 808, providing a platform for themselves and other artists, as well offering support and mentoring to younger South Sudanese artists.
In Brisbane, beatmaker and electronic artist UV Boi has well and truly broken through, with performances at festivals like Splendour in the Grass, while rapper/singer Gill Bates has crossed over into mainstream rap with huge numbers of listens on Soundcloud. While his style is inspired by modern laid-back American hip-hop sounds, it’s tapping into and crossing over with the younger Triple J hip-hop audience. Rapper and spoken word artist Mantist is using the raw power of his words and language to share his story.
Sunshine will air over two big weeks, premiering Wednesday 18 and Thursday 19 October at 8.30pm on SBS. You can watch an encore screening on SBS VICELAND at 9.30pm or stream it online on SBS On Demand.