“When you’re performing for people, you just want people to feel something but more than anything – feel that respect for us as First Nations people."
The Gamilaraay/Birri Gubba man is known for his Yidaki (Didgeridoo) playing, traditional dancing and singing. His journey has enabled him to make his way from country Australia to around the world stage, blending traditional sounds with contemporary music.
“Some people describe me as a one-man rave machine, but it’s all about the Yidaki, beats and rhythms, people sometimes refer to this as modern day corroboree music,” he explained.
The essence of Tambo’s music is his heritage, he sings songs in his language of Gamilaraay and traditional instruments to create modern music of a contemporary Aboriginal man.
“The whole idea around it was that I wanted to create an album with my imprint, my identity and my experience as a contemporary Aboriginal man. Although it’s in language it’s not song lines it’s all about my story and my vision.”
“It was awesome to play yidaki to Solid Rock with nearly 300 voices singing in Pitjantjatjara language behind me."
This year the Boîte Millennium Chorus’ 20th concert, ‘Haven’, bringing songs from Indigenous Australia, the Seychelles, Africa, East Timor, Chile and the Caribbean to thousands of Melbournians.
Like many other spectators, Tambo found the Goanna band’s 1980s hit song Solid Rock performed in Pitjantjatjara by a 225-voice choir to be one of the spine-tingling highlights of the concert, which was at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.
“It was awesome to play yidaki to Solid Rock with nearly 300 voices singing in language behind me. It’s about sharing, coming together and for First Nations people it’s a privilege to be able to share our knowledge and stories.”
Shane Howard’s anthem to Indigenous strength and fortitude, Solid Rock, features a rousing final two choruses sung in Pitjantjatjara.
''we are standing in the most sacred place… we have been standing the wrong way… the wind is blowing stronger… now we are standing the right way.”
Here the main message is declared loud and clear is relevant now more than ever says Tambo.
“It’s such a powerful song to be a part of – I’ve danced this song before with the boys back home, so it’s awesome many years later to do this song in another capacity,” he said.
“It was deadly to be sung in Pitjantjatjara… It depicts the sacred land we’re on, not just about the solid rock Uluru but significant sacred places all over the country, because every day we encounter sacred places from our ancestors.”
This year, the songs selected for the concert include works composed and sung in Yolngu, Pitjantjatjara, English, Senegalese, Tsonga, Seychellois, Spanish and Tetum. Each song relates to the theme of ‘Haven’ through stories of seeking refuge and freedom, finding a home, falling in love, feeling safe, embracing change and nurturing hope.
For the 27-year-old, it was his first time taking part in the choir which was a powerful experience. From a young age, Tambo found new ways to embrace his culture through unique sounds of the didgeridoo.
“I’ve been playing properly since I was 16 and I’ve had a strong passion for my culture from a young age. I wanted to learn song, dance and law. Part of that journey was picking up a Yidaki and it all snowballed from there. I am a contemporary player and depict my stories and journey through song.”
In a massive undertaking, the hundreds of singers from Mallacoota in far east Victoria to Ballarat and Geelong in the west, from Albury-Wodonga in the north, Castlemaine, and the Mornington Peninsula and Melbourne in the south, gather for weekly rehearsals in their region for the three months leading up to the concert.
The repertoire includes Gurumul Yunupingu’s sublime Marrandil, about running out to the tidal mud flats to catch shell fish, the driving African-American gospel song Freedom Road, the gentle Mai Fali Eh and a Timorese song that calls children home at sunset. Our Home Our Land is Lou Bennett’s anthem to country, to the land that nurtures us. Aladji, a West African song, sings of the importance of music, and uniting in our humanity.
The concert included various cultures but Tambo says it’s important to not forget about Australia’s First Nations people.
“It was a great vibe and working with people who celebrate diversity, especially First Nation people so it’s always great when events remember to include us – that’s what it’s all about, sharing the contemporary world in which we I live in."
"We're not just footy players... we're so many facets of this society and that is deadly because it shows other generations that anything is achievable.”
Award-winning opera singer, actor and songwriter Jessica Hitchcock was the only other Indigenous performer, with family origins from Saibai in the Torres Straits, who took part in the Boîte Millennium Chorus. Tambo says it’s good to see more Indigenous talent making their mark on stages across the nation and hopes it continues across the world.
“We’ve got talent everywhere, we come from a history that we’ve kept our law alive and culture alive through storytelling and arts I think that the more Aboriginal people out there on stages on TV screens on ads on billboards the better.”
Tambo says it's important for the next generation to remember that Aboriginal people can be 'more than just footy players'.
“The more the merrier - we're not just footy players; were professors, doctors, actors, family members, academics, lawyers, entrepreneurs… we're so many facets of this society and that is deadly because it shows other generations that anything is achievable.”