Last night at The Toff in Town in Melbourne, A.B. Original were crowned the winners of the 12th Australian Music Prize. Along with the $30,000 cash prize, their win with their debut album Reclaim Australia marked a significant moment in the Prize’s history: for the first time, the accolade had been taken by an Indigenous group.
Briggs and Trials (Yorta Yorta and Ngarrindjeri men, respectively), clutched the green novelty check before acknowledging the risks surrounding the creation of Reclaim Australia.
“When we made this album, we thought it was career suicide. For us to be afforded this platform with so many listeners is not lost on us. We went all out because we thought it was the last one we’d make. All of this support is igniting us to do another one!”
To look around in the venue as the duo took their prize, it was evident that emotions were running high and there was a unanimous level of praise aimed at that stage. As news broke of A.B. Original’s win in the hours after, and through today, the reactions have been mixed.
While an overwhelmingly positive response has made its way online, there has also been the internet trolls who have come out in force.
“An ugly song performed by a very racist band. What a poor choice.” – ‘Tony’ has commented on a news piece published by The Australian – a publication whose social media person has already come under fire this morning.
Some would say that this type of abhorrence would be expected by readers of certain publications or different sections of the Australian media-watching public but all this aside, the vilification of two musicians who have released an absolute landmark album – steeped in historic and contemporary truths, mind – speaks volumes about why a record like Reclaim Australia is more than deserving of a respected and lucrative award such as the AMP.
This has been my second year sitting on the judging panel alongside 15 of my industry peers. We all come from different ethnic backgrounds, we are based all around the country. We all come to the longlist and shortlist meetings with different and indeed, passionate opinions regarding the submitted records.
What remained a strong and unshakeable constant throughout the process this for the 12th Australian Music Prize, was the presence of Reclaim Australia: what it meant for Australian rap as a genre, what it meant within the context of Modern Australia and how the album, sure, has been divisive, but has also had a cataclysmic effect on conversations surrounding Indigenous relations in this country.
The shortlist for the 2016 award was one of the strongest I’ve seen and represented albums from a diverse list of artists. Diving into the melancholic and grief-stricken sonic territory Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds‘ Skeleton Tree presented, to the shimmering pop greatness of Olympia‘s Self Talk and over to the vibrant smorgasbord that was The Avalanches‘ Wildflower, the task of sifting through this list of records brought with it some enlightening, entertaining and brutally honest conversation.
As my fellow judge (and AMP Chairperson), Dave Faulkner, aptly put, “Reclaim Australia is more than just a great Australian album, it’s a cultural landmark. It’s an angry, funny, heartfelt, slamming hip hop album that takes its inspiration from 90’s gangsta rap, and filters it through a modern Aboriginal perspective. It hits hard politically, musically and emotionally and the stories A.B. Original are telling are ones we all need to hear right now.”
And yet, A.B. Original’s win and general existence within what’s deemed to be the ‘popular’ Australian music sphere still acts as an insult to many who probably have never engaged with their music, let alone put a passing effort into researching the content matter of their songs.
It is insulting to read that the AMP’s award of $30,000 and the kudos of being named the Best Australian Album of the Year as being a simple ‘victory for the left’. Normally I wouldn’t engage with this type of vitriol – it is all hot air, ignorance and empty words we read online – but to belittle the work of artists like A.B. Original, the voice they bring to a genre of Australian music that has largely been whitewashed in years past, and the platform they have provided for the socially conscious and driven Indigenous community – youth in particular – needs to be called out.
This is an album both Briggs and Trials have admitted to us, as being the type of record they wish they had as kids growing up. Now, this younger generation of kids have not only two artists to look up to, but an album that can be resonated with, but also stand out as being a venture not content with remaining in the shadows or under the thumb of a widely ignorant and hate-fuelled majority.
That in itself, deserves all the acclaim out there.
Congratulations, A.B. Original – an incredible win.
Photo by Michelle Grace Hunder.