Interviewer – Dani Brown
Hip hop artist Birdz is a lover and a fighter. He loves his young family, and he fights to make sure the hardships indigenous people face are heard through his music. His anthemic single Black Lives Matter made a lot of noise across radio waves, and followed it up with the powerful Rise. His experiences as an indigenous person in today’s society are voiced loud and clear; Dani Brown had a chat to him about his past, his present, and his future, and what we can expect on his debut album Train of Thought, to be released on Friday, August 18.
Your album comes out this month, how are you feeling about that?
Pretty excited and also can’t believe it’s actually happening. It’s been a long journey and I can’t wait to share what we’ve created.
How long did it take to create the album?
In terms of writing and recording the songs then mixing etc etc, I guess you could say around 2 years. In terms of the experiences and stories that I’m sharing on the record, I guess you could say it feels like a lifetime.
Where did you record it and with who?
A bunch of it was actually recorded at home and by myself, just zoning out and vibing with my own thoughts. Also recorded in Melbourne and Darwin in various studios with my brother, James Mangohig (producer extraordinaire).
What was a highlight of the recording process?
There was a couple, but I’d have to say being in the studio with James and my cousin, Fred Leone when we were recording the chorus for Testify. That particular song was such a journey and the way it all came together feels really special.
What was the most challenging part of recording?
Finding time. Being a father and working part time – it can be hard to fit music in at times. But I’m blessed to have such a supportive partner and family around that believes in what I’m doing, so we make it work.
Is there a song on the album that means the most to you? Why?
Testify. It’s been in the making for so long, so to see it finally come together the way we always wanted it to is an amazing feeling. I feel like the story is powerful and vulnerable at the same time – for me personally it’s by far the best and hardest song I’ve written.
You worked with Serina Pech for your latest single The Side. How did that collaboration come about?
Serina’s so dope. It’s mad to see people really responding to her and what she gave the record. We have a mutual brother in James (Mangohig) and he works closely with Serina who’s signed to Perembulator Records. I wrote the chorus and James thought it’d be a cool idea to get Serina to sing it – think we can all agree that it was. She killed it.
Are there any other collabs we can expect on the album?
Yep, it’s a family affair. K-Town soul sister Serina Pech on This Side, my homie Caiti Baker blessed us with an amazing feature and added her touch on a few records, my big cousin and song man Fred Leone, my BAM brother Nooky laced it, Jimblah brought the soul on Rise, Yello from B2M absolutely killed it on Crown Thieves and Ego and really helped bring it all home.
Much or your music explores the hardships faced by indigenous people. Is this what inspired you to start making music?
I definitely draw from the experiences of my peoples. My music is really inspired by my family’s story, as well as my own life experiences and those who’ve I’ve been fortunate enough to know and be influenced by somehow. For me, that’s what hip hop is. It’s a platform to share an insight into who I really am and where I come from – my story. That’s what I believe in anyway, for some it’s obviously different and that’s cool too.
How long have you been making music?
Man… forever. Since I was a kid obsessed with Ice Cube (still one of my all time favourite rappers). But taking it seriously and trying to make a career as an artist, probably about 6 years.
You released the Birdz Eye View EP in 2013 – how has your music evolved since then?
It’s matured a whole lot I guess. So much has happened since then – becoming a father being a definite highlight and still providing so many significant moments. I have so much more to say now and I feel like we really captured that in the record.
Your music is obviously politically charged – are you hoping to make change through your music? What would you like to see changed?
That’s a big question. I grew up listening to NWA, Ice Cube and 2Pac and I guess they were the type of artists that really appealed to me growing up Aboriginal in a small town in the Northern Territory. It was either that, Michael Jackson, or my fathers country music collection. My father has always been a big inspiration for me, he still is, and always led by a strong example of being a proud Black man who’s unafraid to share his story and strive for greatness. I guess you could say that rap was like another role model in my life and a window to the outside world. It showed me that it’s ok to stand up and speak out against injustice – and have it be cool af at the same time.
In the music scene, what are some of the biggest challenges facing indigenous artists?
To be honest, sometimes it’s just being seen. Personally I’ve found coming up that the music scene can be a reflection of Australian society and the country’s attitude towards Indigenous peoples – in the sense that our voice is silenced or often put to the side in the “too-hard basket” and labelled “Aboriginal hip hop”. This can translate into representation (or lack thereof) on certain bills and shows. It is slowly changing though, with the likes of A.B. Original really smashing the door off its hinges in the last couple of years and keeping their foot on it to bring artists like myself through. A good example is probably a song like Black Lives Matter – I doubt that song would’ve been so accepted five years ago and without the presence of brothers like Briggs and Trials. So I think we’re getting there, the key is to just keep making dope undeniable music and stay true to ourselves.
Do you feel like more indigenous artists are being promoted and having their voices heard?
With hip hop and since Bad Apples stepped on the scene – definitely. While there’s still a long way to go, it’s dope to see so many different artists starting to win. I think the face of hip hop in particular in this country is starting to change and we’re hearing so many diverse stories come through now – it’s mad to be a part of.
What has it been like for you personally, having your voice heard through your music?
I feel like it’s just beginning to be honest, but it’s definitely a good feeling when your music connects. As an artist I try not to think about it too much, I just enjoy making music. For me it’s all about that initial process of sharing my story and creating something dope – whatever happens after that is a bonus.
Are there any indigenous artists who have lead the way that you look up to or draw inspiration from?
Definitely Uncle Archie Roach and Yothu Yindi. They were the first to really show me it was possible – making music that represents where you’re from and Black Excellence.
What are some up-and-coming indigenous artists you’re vibing at the moment?
My Bad Apple (Music, record label) brothers, Philly and Nooky. They’ve been steady cooking up and I’m looking forward to BAM continuing to be a strong force in Australian music and beyond.
What do you hope to see happen in your musical future?
I just want to keep creating and exploring new styles, genres etc… I see music as a tool for empowerment – empowering myself, my family and community. That’s the overall goal that I’m always striving for.
AMNPLIFY – DB
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