We have survived / written in our time /carrying our pride, raise your flags high / we have survived, keepers of our times / carrying our pride, singing out...
Powerful and life-affirming lyrics sit at the heart of hip hop artist Mau Power's music, as taken here from his anthemic track Freedom, featuring the vocals of Uncle Archie Roach.
A proud Dhoebaw man of the Guda Malullgal nations, Mau Power is the first Torres Strait rapper to rap in his language and is highly regarded in his community and beyond, as a powerful storyteller and cultural ambassador, though it was not always an easy path for him.
After a brief incarceration in 2001 after a street fight, his priorities and outlook shifted. Speaking to Deadly Vibe at the time of his debut album release, the rapper says that he was intent moving forward was "turning that negative experience into a positive teaching method and a positive story to be told."
Mau Power is now considered a cultural leader who is committed to teaching and guiding youth.
On January 26, the artist is usually away from his family and home, performing at special events.
On 2020's Survival Day, Mau Power was excited to be sharing his music and message as part of NITV's Sunrise Ceremony, "It really is an opportunity to give some perspective from the Torres Strait and also from what I do as an artist.
"What we will be thinking about on the day during the performance, particularly during the song 'Freedom' is the mentality that we are in and where we can start from internally, to have this conversation."
As a sought after performer, he keeps his culture strong by sharing knowledge on the mic, giving him a unique perspective on issues affecting his own community and amongst the wider communities. He has shared the stage with many well known performers including Christine Anu, Uncle Archie Roach, Radical Son, Benny Walker, Jimblah and George Musu to name a few.
In 2017, he was approached by the late land rights activist, Uncle Eddie 'Koiki' Mabo's daughter, Gail to develop a song in honour of her father. A legend not only amongst Torres Strait Islanders, Mabo was the first to take the issue of land ownership and the term of Terra Nullius to the highest court in the land, establishing the idea of sovereignty in a landmark case.
The accompanying video to the song Koiki, is a powerful and moving tribute to the activist.
Reflecting on 26th January
On the eve of the January 26 celebrations, commemorations and protests, Mau Power is reflecting on what our national day is in the present time and where it could potentially go, to be inclusive and respectful for all.
"We call January 26 'Survival Day'. It's a day where we remember how far our culture has come and has survived not only pre-colonisation, but through to the current colonisation. It's a reminder of the way our country is moving forward." Mau Power tells NITV.
"I have seen changes, especially in the mindsets of people talking about Australia Day.
"For example, moving the date. That conversation started out really heavy when I was doing these performances on (Survival Day) stages. I was really making it a point to bring that conversation to light. But inclusively.
"So it was not just amongst us Indigenous people, but allowing the conversation to reach the mainstream."
Given the changes in people's opinions on the date, Mau Power says it is encouraging, but as First Nations peoples we need to remember there is a long way to go, and that just being able to have these kinds of conversations is still very important to effect change.
"Because we are still processing the effects of all these things that are happening, whether we like to admit it or not. Allowing us to have that conversation, brings it into the presence of other people." He explains.
If he wasn't an artist and had a place to take on the stage, the hip hop artist says that he would spend January 26 with family. Having three young daughters of his own, he would try and explain the significance of the day.
"The next generation don't really get that conversation, or that information." Mau Power explains. "There are things that we talk about on days such as this. The 1967 Referendum, Mabo Day, things like that. When I speak to kids at high school, I notice that it's not spoken about, and to me it's important that we keep these stories and this information flowing."
In the Torres Strait, the artist says that January 26 has a similar feel to that of a celebration on the mainland. "Because it's a very diverse community in the Torres Strait, they have the Australia Day celebration but the community also celebrates the Indigenous. The survival, concepts and the history surrounding the day.
"I know to the Kaurareg, [for people] like Milton Savage, he is very proactive at bringing that conversation, to make sure we don't forget, that [these events] weren't that long ago." Mau Power explains to NITV.
With the release of his debut album in 2014 'The Show Will Go On', the hip-hop artist's message was clear: his culture, Zenadh Kes - of the Torres Strait Islands, would survive whatever challenges came it's way. In the title track Mau Power explains exactly what survival means to him;
'The adaptation to it’s surroundings and evolution is what makes a culture an organic survival mechanism / Not what it was, but what it is, and can become as time and nature evolves with it / Survival of the fittest.'
On reflection, the artist says that culture in the Torres Strait is strong.
Through his work with youth, as a musical ambassador and educator, he is positive.
"There's varied factors especially when you move from Thursday Island to the outer island regions. Language and cultural maintenance is very strong. The traditional practices are still practiced. And I think that at this point, yes, it is at a good place."
Mau Power's next major project which is still mostly under wraps will see him work with other established artists such as Trials, one half of popular duo A B Original and English star Ewan McGregor, developing music for a documentary feature called 'Looky Looky, here comes Cooky'. "All I can say at this stage is that as an artist, this is a great opportunity to collaborate with some great creatives."
NITV presents a selection of dedicated programming, special events and news highlights with a focus on encouraging greater understanding of Indigenous Australian perspectives on 26 January. Join the conversation #AlwaysWasAlwaysWillBe