Toilets are always a good place to get an idea of individual responses to a gig, and tonight the dunnies in the University of Sydney are no exception. A Sheila who’s had one too many tinnies sums up one of two opinions halfway through Local Knowledge’s performance. “It’s some Aboriginal thing”, she hiccups into her mobile. “It’s pretty average”.
Unfortunately the blas attitude of the white Australian and her lack of interest in the gig is something these indigenous artists have had to put up with for a while. Fortunately times are finally changing and with the invitation to be the first ever indigenous hip hop group to play Australia’s celebrated Live @ The Wireless radio session in 2005, Local Knowledge are turning mainstream heads, and she is left in the minority.
It was in 2002 that brothers Abie and Warrick Wright teamed up with third member Joel Wenitong to form Local Knowledge. With the aim of “telling it like it was, how it is and how it should be”, they continued their work with marginalized Aboriginal communities whilst plunging themselves into the challenge of turning their Australian hip hop into a mainstream force.
With the addition of turntablist DJ Jay Tee and now their release of debut record Blackfellas, which gained regular airplay on a national radio station, they are now on their way to becoming a recognised name across Australia.
Even though it’s not their home town they certainly receive a warm welcome tonight as they surge onto the stage with obscene energy and try and tempt forward a timid group of fans. It works. It seems it’s only the Poms who are stunned that, after preparing themselves for a sober gig where multiculturalism and social issues would pilot the rhymes, are actually faced with three brick shit houses grinning like Goldie Lookin Chain goons and displaying electric knee-wobbling dance moves.
Local Knowledge are touring their debut record, and although it may not be the most sophisticated of hip hop collections, it certainly transcends well live. When they tell you to put your hand in the air and “move it”, you do.
But Australian hip hop, does it really pass the test? Well, basically, yes. It’s hard to imagine but hip hop actually turns round the twang of the accent into something pretty palatable. There’s even something homely about the way it jars in an un-American style.
However, the glaring sun of the Aboriginal flag which hangs as a backdrop to the stage, once argued for to replace the Union Jack on the Australian flag, reminds us there is little Britishness about this act.
This outfit have something different to say than the over-saturated American and UK MCs we hear on our radio every day. Forget Westsiders yarning about bling and London artists waxing lyrical about the lack of power in their council flat shower. Local Knowledge have something fresh to say about a cause that is still hushed by a disinterested world, and their fresh way of saying it is making even the whitefellas stand up and listen.