Baker Boy Wins Big at the National Indigenous Music Awards; Plus Top Honors to Archie Roach & More

Baker Boy Photo Credit: Freya Esders

Last month, the National Indigenous Music Awards honored dozens of Australian musicians despite pandemic restrictions, as the ceremony was broadcast from Darwin in the Northern Territory to participants and audiences around the entire country. Top honors of the night went to Former Young Australian of the Year, rapper Baker Boy, who won three of the 10 awards. For the second year in a row, he was awarded Artist of The Year.

The Yolngu rapper from the Northern Territory won the award against a competitive field of fellow Indigenous artists, each of whom has released critically acclaimed albums and singles in the past year: pop singers Jess Mauboy and Thelma Plum, roots artist Emily Wurramara who sings original music both in English and Anindilyakwa, hip hop artist and rapper Mau Power, and electro-soul duo Electric Fields (Zaachariaha Fielding and Michael Ross).

Baker Boy, born Danzal Baker, won Song of the Year and Film Clip of the Year for his track featuring Jess B, “Meditjin,” which translates as “medicine” in Yolgnu Matha. The song reached number one on the Australian Indigenous Music chart. In a statement made when the song was released in November 2019, Baker Boy said, “Music is the best meditjin. It brings everyone together, makes you want to dance, love, laugh, vibe and feel. I wrote ‘Meditjin’ with just that in mind. It’s about making people feel the music and express themselves.”

Album of the Year was won by Victorian Archie Roach, whose album Tell Me Why dovetailed with the release of his memoir as an activist who has campaigned for the rights of Indigenous Australians throughout his 64 years of life and career. The album revisits song spanning Roach’s career, including “Took the Children Away” (from his 1990 debut Charcoal Lane), which laments the Stolen Generations – Indigenous Australian children forcibly removed from their families and placed with white Australian families.

Roach was one such child; at the age of four, he and his sisters were taken from his parents by Australian government agencies and bounced from orphanages to unsuccessful foster care placements before finding some semblance of peace in the home of Scottish immigrants Alex and Dulcie Cox in Melbourne. Alex taught Roach how to play guitar and keyboards, also encouraging him to join in on singing traditional ballads. Though haunted by his traumatic childhood, Roach became internationally renowned, playing shows with Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg, Suzanne Vega, Tracy Chapman and Patti Smith.

Roach met his future wife, Ruby Hunter, at a Salvation Army drop-in centre when she was 16 and he was 15. Hunter, a Ngarrindjeri woman, had also been removed from her family and fostered by white parents at a young age. She often performed with Roach and the two ran workshops and events for Indigenous youth around Australia before her premature death, aged 54, in 2010. Though later than ideal, she was inducted into the NIMA Hall of Fame this year.

Writing songs in secret while raising a family and working at a hostel for homeless Aboriginal girls and women, Hunter emerged as a songwriting talent alongside her husband when he discovered a song she’d written, “Down City Streets,” and recorded it on Charcoal Lane. She was offered a recording contract on the basis of “Down City Streets,” the first Australian Aboriginal woman to sign with a major record label. Ruby was central to the formation of Black Arm Band, a company of leading Indigenous and non-Indigenous performers from around Australia. Black Arm Band tours and presents Indigenous performances at major festivals in capital cities and in remote Australian communities.

The National Indigenous Music Awards (NIMA), which importantly celebrate new and emerging artists as well as recognising and honoring established artists, were established in 2004 as an association between MusicNT and the Northern Territory Government. The other contenders for Album of the Year were a testament to the incredible diversity of Indigenous music being made throughout Australia.

Miiesha hails from a small Aboriginal community in Central Queensland (north of Australia) called Woorabinda. She debuted in 2019, supporting Baker Boy, Briggs and Thelma Plum as well as performing at Melbourne’s Laneway Festival, she’s proven popular as both a live artist and on community radio stations.

Miiesha’s debut Nyaaringu is the natural result of her passion for soul, gospel, R&B and hip hop. Though only 29 minutes, the collection of songs prove her skills as a soul singer and an extraordinary vocalist and songwriter at only 20 years old. “Nyaaringu” translates as “what happened” in the Pitjantjatjara language. Miiesha attributes the title to the inherited stories, grief and hope that have been passed down through her grandmother via stories and shared musical experiences.

Ray Dimakarri Dixon’s album Standing Strong Mudburra Man combines English and Mudburra languages. Dixon lives in the Northern Territory, a community 700km from the major city of Darwin. The area is threatened by fracking, which devastates the land and ruins wildlife habitats. Dixon’s album is ultimately a protest for his country, and a strong case against mining and fracking.

“You can support people like myself – people who are standing strong. There’s also an outfit called Lock the Gate that comes out to country and helps us,” he told Melbourne university, RMIT.

The awards are a nationally recognised celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. NIMA’s creative director, Ben Graetz, sees a silver lining to hosting the event virtually this year. “The great thing about virtual events is it allows people access to it, people with disabilities that probably aren’t able to get to the event, people living in remote communities that aren’t able to get to this event,” he says. “It’s a way of bringing our community together, our mob together, but also… celebrating all of our great musicians.”

Check out a full list of NIMA’s finalists for 2020 below.

The full list of Finalists for 2020 is below.

Artist of the Year
Baker Boy
Electric Fields
Emily Wurramara
Jessica Mauboy
Mau Power
Thelma Plum

Album of the Year
Archie Roach – Tell Me Why
Jessica Mauboy – Hilda
Mau Power – Blue Lotus The Awakening
Miiesha – Nyaaringu
Ray Dimakarri Dixon – Standing Strong Mudburra Man

Song of the Year
Alice Skye – “I Feel Better But I Don’t Feel Good
Baker Boy ft. Jess B – “Meditjin”
Briggs ft. Tim Minchin – “House Fyre
Electric Fields & Keiino – “Would I Lie
Kee’ahn – “Better Things
Thelma Plum – “Homecoming Queen

New Talent of the Year
Dallas Woods
Mitch Tambo

Film Clip of the Year
Baker Boy ft. Jess B – “Meditjin”
Briggs ft. Tim Minchin – “House Fyre”
Dallas Woods – “If It Glitters It’s Gold
Miiesha – “Drowning
Tasman Keith – “Billy Bad Again

Community Music Clip
Booningbah Goories
Bwgcolman Mob
Githabul Next Generation
Iron Range Danger Gang
KDA Crew
Ntaria Connect

Indigenous Language Award
Rrawun Maymuru & Nick Wales – Nyapililngu (Spirit Lady)
Stuart Nugget – Nayurni (Woman)

PLAYING MELBOURNE: Alice Ivy Takes Collabs to New Heights on Sophomore LP Don’t Sleep

Photo Credit: Michelle G Hunder

Producer Alice Ivy (otherwise known as Annika Schmarsel)​ has become a name to know in the Melbourne music scene; her blend of ’90s house beats, lush layers of synths and raw instruments along with a voice sweetly attuned to pop sensibilities made her 2018 debut I’m Dreaming an instant cult classic. Whether fans hear her doing cover versions on radio, such as the 2018 Like A Version session she did for Australian radio station Triple J (in which she covered “American Boy” by Estelle), or whether fans come to her via a collaboration she’s done with a popular artist like Bertie Blackman (“Chasing Stars“), she’s built a solid base of support for her exciting pop-dance productions. It is Ivy’s skill for partnering with complementary collaborators that makes her sophomore album Don’t Sleep such a revelatory follow-up.

Ivy’s influences include Kaytranada, the xx, The Avalanches, J Dilla, and in a similar vein, she channels the vibe of fellow Australians Pnau, who build looped beats, keys, glitchy samples and live vocals in studio and live performances. “When I was in my early twenties, and beginning to dabble in electronic production after half a lifetime of playing the guitar, I discovered J Dilla’s monumental album Donuts. It was a major turning point for me. Once I was introduced to the world of sampling I was totally hooked,” Ivy recently told Acclaim.

Her current influences are a far cry from the clarinet and guitar lessons she was given as a child from well-meaning uncles and aunts. Ivy’s family immigrated to Australia from Germany when she was very young – she was the only child in her kindergarten group (preschool) who didn’t speak fluent English. This ability to traverse languages has echoes in her love for sounds and the ability for seemingly incongruous vocal samples, radio, TV and movies to make sense when partnered with looping keyboards, horns and drums.

At only 27, Ivy has lived long enough to have explored musical genres such as house, Motown, hip hop and acoustic to borrow what she likes and to confidently twist the sounds using the digital tools that younger, DIY artists are so enthusiastic for. Ivy has used multi-faceted software Ableton to mash up her loops, samples, collages of vocals and instrumentals. “I usually build a song around a sample,” she told Linda Mariani, Triple J radio host in 2018. “I started looping stuff, I put delays on keys and started pitching the keys… then I [add] samples to it.”

Ivy played guitar in a 25-piece, all-girl Motown and soul band during high school, The Sweethearts. Her proclivity for using horns as an atmospheric texture reappears across Don’t Sleep, as it did on her first album, proving that not all of us forget everything we learned in high school upon graduation. She would later study for a music industry degree, which is where she was introduced to Ableton.

In 2017, she performed and spoke as part of the global series of TEDx Talks, TEDxYouth@Sydney. Her lively performance covered singles “Charlie” and “Touch,” impressively allowing the young producer to dance about on stage while also manipulating a keyboard, laptop and electric guitar. Her pure focus on the music and clear joy in getting lost in it is palpable.

The eclectic, celebratory nature of what is ultimately a great party album is so much richer for the inclusivity it invites, both from collaborators and listeners. Whether by choice or pure coincidence, Ivy gravitates toward collaborations with BIPOC, LGBTQI, non-binary and female artists. Indigenous Australian singer-songwriter Thelma Plum makes a cameo on “Ticket To Heaven,” which was co-written over five hours in an Air BnB set up as a studio. On “Sweetest Love” she collaborates with operatically-skilled Melbourne singer Montaigne, who is openly bisexual. Canadian rapper Cadence Weapon brings his rapid-fire skills to “Sunrise,” asking – or challenging – “Can you keep up?”  “All In For You” is a killer collaboration between Ivy and Papua New Guinea-born, Sydney-based artist Ngaiire, a much respected and celebrated singer-songwriter in her own right. And South African-born, Tamil, Sri Lankan artist Ecca Vandal features on “In My Mind,” one of the album’s standout tracks.

Videos for the album’s singles have promoted the album’s joyous oddball streak. Exuberant solo choreography (courtesy dancer Alex Dyson) lends a visual expression to the vocal dexterity of SAFIA’s Ben Woolner on “Better Man,” a fun and fluent collaboration between two skilled instrumentalists. The video for tropical-edged, reggaeton-infused title track “Don’t Sleep” shows Alice Ivy, imbi the girl, and BOI alternate between synchronized dance moves and roaring around on motorbikes. “If you’re losing the vibe, how do you feel alive in your body and soul?” goes the chorus.

As for the funny, clever promo photos of Ivy with her collaborators, she told Acclaim it was a joint decision by the artist and her photographer. “When it came time to shoot the promo photos for the album, I’d planned this big meet-up in Sydney with most of the collaborators and we were going to pose together for a group photo. My photographer Michelle G Hunder and I were referencing Solange Knowles’ wedding photos for inspiration. But when the pandemic turned up that idea went out the window so I switched it out for me on my lonesome in a warehouse with a bunch of lifesize cardboard cut-outs.”

The imagery might be a humorous, but there’s nothing flippant or two-dimensional about the eclectic, constantly dynamic sophomore LP Don’t Sleep, out now on Dew Process.

Follow Alice Ivy on Facebook for ongoing updates.