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Live Review: Yothu Yindi & The Treaty Project, The Herd, Baker Boy

13 January 2018 | 3:41 pm | Mick Radojkovic

"A celebration of music and indigenous culture."

More Yothu Yindi & The Treaty Project More Yothu Yindi & The Treaty Project

While some things change, many things have not. In a country still battling with its past, the return of Yothu Yindi within the guise of The Treaty Project is important as a reminder of how far we have to go.

This year marks 30 years since the Barunga Statement, presented at the Barunga Festival, called for indigenous recognition and a Treaty. Then Prime Minister Bob Hawke reneged on his promise to bring these changes before the parliament and change the constitution. This backflip was the catalyst for Yothu Yindi’s hit, Treaty. The track would go on to be a song for the ages and a constant reminder of the reconciliation, recognition and Treaty that never was, or has been.

Danzel Baker is Baker Boy, aka the "fresh new prince" in his childhood home in Arnhem Land, also the home of tonight's headliners. His presence onstage, right from the first track, was electric. He smiled, danced and grinned at the crowd as they gathered closer. “I say Baker, you say Boy!” - he got the crowd involved straight away and his infectious nature spread.

At just 20, this rising hip-hop star raps, dances, paints and acts. Starting with Black Magic Master, we were also witness to the first time we’d heard anyone rap in the indigenous Yolngu Matha language. Bouncing around the stage with his DJ and fellow rapper, there was pure joy in Baker Boy's delivery.

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The performance of his latest track, Marryuna (“That means dance, so I want to see you all do it!”) with Yirrmal, was the highlight of a short-but-extremely fun set from a prodigiously talented individual destined to spread aboriginal culture to youngsters around the country.

It takes a special event to gather The Herd together from around Australia into the one place. With only a handful of shows in the last five years, all eight members came together for this special concert and the smiles on their faces proved how much it meant to them. We may be waiting until the year 2020 (please?) to see new material from them, but the track with the same name started the set and immediately the crowd continued to move in time.

Politically charged song, The King Is Dead, is still suitable, despite being about the fall of John Howard. “As soon as one goes, another pops up in their place,” declared MC Ozi Batla as he spat the lyrics. This reviewer had goose-bumps up his spine during the performance of The Sum Of It All, before indigenous rapper Nooky took to the stage to perform a visceral verse in the still-sadly relevant track, 77%.

The outstanding voice of Radical Son stood out for their final track, a cover of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come. We continue to live in hope for change - and a new album - because we need both more than ever.

More than 25 years after the song that combined indigenous music with electronica, Yothu Yindi & The Treaty Project is born. The group, containing long-time members Witiyana Marika on vocals and bilma (clapsticks), Malngay Yunupingu on yidaki (didgeridoo) and bassist Stuart Kellaway are joined by singer and almost-hypeman tonight, Yirrmal Marika (grandson of Dr Yunupingu) along with the impressive voice of Yirrnga Yunupingu; the harmonies between the two of them cutting through beautifully throughout the night.

There’s a feeling of hope, positivity and inclusivity tonight within the large audience. Children joined with teenagers and adults of all ages to appreciate a special coming together of members for this rare performance. Along with their hits, including Timeless Land and Mabo, we are treated to a new track Firewalker and a banging rendition of Djapana, which still feels fresh a generation on.

It’s a special moment when Yirrmal sings one of his own tracks solo on the stage. His voice cuts through the appreciative and silent crowd. The group are joined by Shane Howard of Goanna for their classic, Solid Rock. He declares, “The winds are changing” as he remains on stage for the huge finale of Treaty.

The night is a celebration of music and indigenous culture but combined with electronic beats and the freshness of youth. The project comes at a time where a Treaty still hasn’t materialised and a nation remains in denial of its past. Maybe one day, this sort of concert can become a celebration of change, rather than an instigator of it.