Indigenous hip-hop: Overcoming marginality, encountering constraints

By Andrew Warren; Rob Evitt  in Australian Geographer, Vol. 41, No. 1,  University of Wollongong, New South Wales. Online publication date: 18 February 2010.

Abstract

This paper discusses the creative and contemporary performances of young Indigenous hip-hoppers in two seemingly disparate places (Nowra, NSW, and Torres Strait Islands, QLD). Visiting two Indigenous hip-hop groups from these places--and drawing on interviews and participant observation--we explore the way in which emerging technologies, festivals, programs and online networking have helped enable unique forms of music making. In contrast to racist discourses depicting Indigenous youth as idle or inactive, our research participants demonstrated musical aspiration, creativity and a desire to express love of country and culture.

Rather than assume cities and urban centres are hubs for creativity, hip-hop production is geographically mobile, operating in locations removed from large population centres. Indigenous hip-hop links up-and-coming with more experienced performers in what amounts to a semi-formal, political, transnational and anti-colonial creative industry.

Geographical distance remains an ongoing challenge, but more than this, wider patron discourses framing what is expected from 'proper' Indigenous performance are the more profound coalface of marginalisation.

Introduction

This paper explores the creative musical performances of Indigenous youth from two socio-economically disadvantaged places, one in Australia's tropical north, the other just beyond the outermost edge of the Greater Sydney metropolitan area.

In these locations, physical distance and poverty are conditions influencing the ability of creative artists to do their work, access opportunities and build careers. We discuss these themes in relation to young Indigenous people involved in the musical genre of hip-hop.

We discuss how remoteness is managed, and marginality negotiated through the expressive medium of hip-hop and new recording and distribution technologies. In doing so, we seek to explore a network--semiinformal, political, transnational and often decidedly anti-colonial--which constitutes a new, vernacular, Indigenous creative industry in regional and remote Australia.

But crucially, we also explore how physical distance and poverty are not the only barriers that creative artists negotiate. Young musicians navigate expectations of themselves and what constitutes 'proper' Indigenous performances in wider Australian cultural industries. We draw on van Toorn's (1990) concept of patron discourses to show how, beyond physical and socio-economic marginality, cultural norms and expectations frame what is possible, producing and restricting creative opportunities.

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