In a world where social media, the 24hr news cycle and an unrelenting information overload consumes the headspace of many, what are the issues troubling the minds of Indigenous youth?
This was the question that lead to the creation of 'Standing as One', a striking hip-hop video produced by a group of 21 Indigenous Kingscliff High School students that has gone viral online.
The video is the product of the 8-week ‘Music for Change’ workshop, organized by One Vision Productions, a not-for-profit multi-media company, with Indigenous Advancement Strategy funding.
It has garnered more than 100,000 views at the time of writing – an impressive number for a coastal town with approximately 6,000 residents.
The video features images of the lush country and staunch youth celebrating culture and tradition, contrasted sharply with urban settings and the all-too-familiar symbol of an ATM machine.
The creators say the song explores the disparity between two worlds: the Dreamtime, where the ‘Old Ways’ led the people, and contemporary life, where money, power and greed are the currency of the day.
The result is a visually stunning video with a strong, poignant message, which was filmed over the course of two full days at local areas of significance to the group.
While the lyrics include bleak references to Australian history and world politics, the underlying message is one of strength and unity for the future.
One Vision Founding Director, Mark Robertson, told NITV News the workshop, which has been running around Australia for over 10 years, uses hip hop and the arts as a platform for empowerment.
“We create a clip and teach them [the kids] production for them to get their message across.
“The first time we work in a circle to discuss and address issues that might be affecting them and create a theme for a song. We analyze the issue and then they write the lyrics. We teach them how to rhyme and bring the song together and record it,” he explains.
“I feel like my favourite part was probably being able to inspire some of the younger kids that took part. To show the kids not to be shame..."
For 17-year-old Kingscliff high school student Rueben Baartz, the ‘Music for Change’ workshop was a golden opportunity to inspire him and others.
“The first day I got introduced was really amazing. Just seeing the way they do things and their sincerity… When kids see how well they do everything, they want to naturally get involved,” he told NITV News.
“We did a couple of days in songwriting. All kids got involved and pitched in their own ideas. The next session we got the structure.”
Rueben says the workshop was also welcomed by his fellow schoolmates, part of the local Bundjalung community from the Minjuginbul area, near the border of NSW and Queensland.
He told NITV News the school had a high percentage of Indigenous students and has recently been giving them a lot more opportunities to form stronger cultural connections.
“I feel like my favourite part was probably being able to inspire some of the younger kids that took part. To show the kids not to be shame and not be embarrassed and talk about the issues [they experience, such as] mental health issues, personal family issues...
“I personally want to have an impact and tell kids to open up more. By talking about some of the issues that are going on in the world and personally, I try to inspire other kids.”
Mr Robertson says the workshop is meant to be an immersive experience, a “solution-based scenario” which enables vulnerable youth to succeed by helping them discover their talents, aspirations and what inspires them.
“A lot of the kids who weren’t into literacy, they find their passion … Hip hop is a vehicle for empowerment.”
The kids are taught a variety of skills alongside professionals, including songwriting, as well as sound and video recording.
“They operate the equipment: computers for beats, learn how to mix through the deck and use the cameras,” Mr Robertson explains.
“They’re smart kids, the way they developed it,” he adds.
“The youth we worked with had loads of personality; they talked about their concerns with what has been going on in the world. They felt there were so many real issues not being addressed and saw the contrast between the old ways and modern times.”
For Rueben, the success of the video has been a welcome surprise and a source of pride.
“It’s blown up massively! … I feel like this one is exploded a lot more than I expected. I’ve had so many people come up to me and say ‘great work on that video’, and social media.
“I’m hoping that … viewers are going to engage with it and understand the meaning behind it all.”