But the people we survived
Inscribed with lies and decimated
With deceitful bribes
Yeah the people we survived
On Monday Neil launches his latest single Ancestors: an ode to country, our Old People and the knowledge they carry, with lyrical backing vocals from Kee’ahn, a proud Kuku Yalanji, Jirrbal and Torres Strait Islander woman living in Narrm (Melbourne).
But while the track is ultimately a meditation on the beauty of this land, Neil says it was a song born from ugliness.
“I wrote it due to an experience while performing at a show,” he says.
"There was an incident in the audience at this particular event that was quite disturbing: with abuse to myself performing and also abuse to some Indigenous people in the audience: I went home that night and wrote what went on to become the Ancestors track word for word.”
The release of Ancestors five days out from January 26 was a conscious decision. Neil says he hopes the song helps bring the community a sense of healing on what is often a painful day for many.
"There's definitely a large part of me that feels a responsibility to continue what a lot of Yorta-Yorta people fought for before me," he says.
"The invasion as I see it is still ongoing."
The ancestors in the land
Amidst every child woman and man
No matter where you stand
So I, pay respect.
Neil started out performing under his own name a few years ago, experimenting with loops and vocal looping in language.
“I ended up, I guess, really trying to find how I could do something that was most important to me and that honoured my identity as an Indigenous person,” he says.
“And I began to create music that, I guess, was quite driven by that: not only in the sound but the feeling.”
What resulted was DRMNGNOW: a project which seeks to give voice to his Indigeneity and confront the trauma that comes with living as a Blak person in Australia.
“I believe in the power of words and song to actually really set things like that in motion and to break shackles that are held over us,” he says.
“For the last few tracks that I had released it was actually just singing in language, and it was very powerful and beautiful to me…Then there did come a period in time where I said 'enough was enough,' and I felt I really had to spell out some things clearly for myself to move beyond that.”
This always was
And always will be a land of
Countless Indigenous nations
None of which are called
Last year, Neil released a track titled 'Australia Does Not Exist' to empower Indigenous peoples - from the east-coast to the west-coast, he says. Twelve months on, he hopes to provide a soundtrack for their connection to country.
“First and foremost there’s a great illusion around how this country has always been – as an idea. In one way it’s like I’m attempting to burn down the illusions metaphorically.
“Like they say, the truth will set you free."