• The event will host legends like Troy Cassar-Daley and Christine Anu, as well as younger artists Sycco and Baker Boy. (Supplied. )Source: Supplied.
Sycco, Barkaa, Baker Boy, Christine Anu, Troy Cassar-Daley... legends and new blood will come together to discuss safe spaces for First Nations artists, and the importance of Blak music.
Dan Butler

5 Sep 2021 - 9:32 AM  UPDATED 5 Sep 2021 - 9:32 AM

Next week will see some of Blak music's brightest stars come together for a special, all-First Nations event. 

Held online over three days, BLAKSOUND will see around 20 musicians and industry professionals present workshops and talks.

The event aims to provide up-and-coming artists a first-hand insight into the music industry, its pitfalls and opportunities. 

Alethea Beetson, lead artistic director of Digi Youth Arts and a veteran of the music industry, is the executive producer of BLAKSOUND. She has high hopes for the event. 

"Because we've been given our own platform, we've been able to program an entire suite of conversations that come from the topics that our community are discussing," the Kabi Kabi, Wiradjuri woman told NITV News. 

Those topics are broad and varied, designed to "elevate, celebrate and represent the voices and perspectives of current and future First Nations artists and industry workers."

One of those topics is particularly pressing: creating safe spaces for First Nations people working in the music industry. 

"As an Indigenous person working in the music industry, who has directly experienced the kinds of systemic issues prevalent in the sector, it is definitely something that is driving BLAKSOUND," says Alethea. 

"Because we want it to be a better space for First Nations artists." 

It's an urgent task: Blak music in this country has never received more attention than it is right now.

"We've always been making great music, (but) because of those who paved the way for artists, we're now seeing more space given to First Nations artists, and we need to see that continue.

"Not just for the young artists, but also across all the generations that we make our music."

With First Nations artists finally receiving the recognition they have always deserved, they are being increasingly embraced by the mainstream music industry.

"Our faces are becoming a lot more prominent in different spaces. That in itself is something that we need to be excited about," says Bianca Hunt, who will be appearing on a panel at BLAKSOUND. 

"But we have to make sure that everyone feels comfortable in that space."

"Realistically, there is a lot of places across the country that haven't been built, from a systemic point of view, for Blakfullas. And now we are being asked to be in these spaces that weren't built for us.

"And so it's like, how are we going to navigate that?"

Hunt, a Kamilaroi, Barkindji, Ballardong and Wadjak woman, represents First Nations talent in media, like public speakers and influencers. She says her drive is to take the pressure off her clients, and create a safe cultural space for them to work in, so they can accept jobs they genuinely want, rather than feel obliged to take. 

"Because the saddest thing is that we see our mob come into these spaces and then potentially leave, because of... (lack of) support, not enough gigs, no representation, whatever that looks like." 

Some of Blak music's biggest stars will be taking part: Christine Anu, Baker Boy, DOBBY, Sycco, Troy Cassar-Daley, and many more. 

They'll be offering their personal experiences within the music industry as wisdom and guidance for younger artists. 

One of those luminaries will be rap sensation Barkaa. The Malyangapa, Barkindj woman has had a meteoric rise over the last 18 months, to become one of the country's most exciting new artists. 

That rise has come with its own challenges. She says there are things she wish she'd been more prepared for. 

"Especially coming onto the scene where I had four years of sobriety, and then the triggers of the music industry and how normalized alcohol is in this country... I wish I had those warnings, I wish I'd planned it more safely."

In the heady atmosphere of her sudden success, Barkaa experienced a relapse. She's since gotten back on the wagon, but notes other, more external dangers. 

"I had a label approach me... and they said, 'Oh, we'll just polish you up a bit.' And that rubbed me the wrong way.

"Because I'm like, What do you mean polish me up? If you're not going to take me for what I am as an artist, then you can bugger off!"

Barkaa says other artists have complained to her of similar treatment: labels offer representation, only to add the caveat of needing to 'polish' or 'refine' the artist, code for depoliticising their image and music. 

"They're still accommodating racists: 'How will the racist feel if you say this?'"

The 26-year-old is lucky to be represented by fellow rap star Briggs' label, Bad Apples. It's an all First Nations collective that Barkaa says is "family".

"I'm really blessed to have that team around me, who support me for who I am," she says. 

BLAKSOUND executive producer Alethea says by encouraging more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into the industry, more supportive environments can be fostered. 

"We want more Indigenous people creating our own platform on our own terms, so that there is... less risk that they're exposed to the oppressive issues that are inherent within the music industry."

It's a big task, as it always is when confronting systemic issues. But it couldn't be more pressing. 

Blak music in this country has the distinction of being high culture: in the tradition of Nina Simone's Mississippi Goddamn, or Yothu Yindi's eternal classic Treaty, First Nations music like Barkaa's is an artistic response to the social and political themes of our time, a true synthesis of art and life. 

"It’s why I do my job!" says Alethea says of working with First Nations artists. 

"I think that they make some of the most relevant art this country, as we do across all artforms. And I think that music made by Indigenous people has a greater capacity to assist some of the other advocacy work that other mob are doing around the country, and get it to a larger audience."

"The time’s come where we're able to say whatever we want, and be unapologetic about it," says Barkaa.

"When you're born black, automatically you're political.

"This is just our truth... how history has impacted us, and how it continues in our country. So, yes, it's a huge responsibility as mob to get the truth out."

Alethea hopes the industry engages with BLAKSOUND, as it has the potential not only to create safer spaces for First Nations artists, but to make the industry as a whole more sustainable.

"The way that we do things, that are actually artist-centric, they probably serve the entire sector, especially as they're grappling with the uncertainty that they're facing right now."

Bianca says there are broader industry challenges that she hopes will come up for discussion. 

"Because obviously, we know artists haven't had the best run during COVID... But the whole idea is to spread Blak joy and support our people in these spaces."

It's an exciting event that will no doubt be full of joy. Barkaa, while feeling the responsibility of encouraging and informing artists coming into the industry, says she has a central tenet.  

"I feel like my biggest advice as an artist is just be unapologetically you, stand staunch in your moral compass.

"Just let it rip!"

BLAKSOUND runs online for three Monday 6 Sept - Wednesday 8 September. Register online now.