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News March 12, 2021

Thelma Plum and Baker Boy take out top spots in Vanda & Young songwriting competition

Senior Journalist, B2B
Thelma Plum and Baker Boy take out top spots in Vanda & Young songwriting competition
Image: Thelma Plum (credit: Kurt Petersen)

For the first time in the history of the Vanda & Young Global Songwriting Competition, two First Nations acts, Thelma Plum and Baker Boy, took the top spots.

Plum and her song ‘Better In Blak’ won the $50,000 cash prize courtesy of APRA AMCOS, Alberts and BMG. The song, which cracked the ARIA Singles Chart in 2019 and went Gold, was co-written by the Gamilaraay performer, songwriter-producer Alexander Burnett and London-based Oli Horton.

The track was a wry comment on people who told her “it’s not about colour” when it was, and more specifically after a torrent of abusive, racist and misogynistic phone messages received in the wake of a 2016 Facebook post about an alleged altercation between Plum and a member of a Sydney band.

In a statement this morning, she called the song “deeply personal, written when I was feeling very alone”. She added: “I don’t feel alone today”.

‘Better In Blak’ was also a top-five finalist in the 2020 peer-voted APRA Song of the Year and came in at #9 in the triple j Hottest 100 of 2019.

Plum was a runner-up in the 2013 competition for her song ‘Breathe In Breathe Out’.

Second place went to Baker Boy’s ‘Meditjin’, written in 2019 and sung in Yolngu Matha and English. It’s about the role of music as medicine (‘meditjin’) – “it brings everyone together, makes you want to dance, love, laugh, vibe and feel”.

The AFL used ‘Meditjin’ last year in an ad campaign, translating its message to the role of sports.

His $10,000 prize came from media and IP law firm Banki Haddock Fiora.

Baker Boy, AKA Danzal Baker, commented: “I was blown away that I even made the shortlist, so to come second for the Vanda & Young Global Songwriting Competition is just crazy.

“It feels really special that my Yolngu Matha lyrics are getting this kind of recognition! Couldn’t have done it without my co-writers: JessB, Jerome Farah, Dallas Woods and Dion Brownfield.”

Taking out third place ($5,000 from insurance brokers and risk managers Aon) was Ruel’s ‘Painkiller’, from 2019. The track was co-written with Sarah Aarons and Hiren Mor, and reunited Ruel with producer M-Phazes.

Ruel said: “I’ve been working hard to improve my songwriting every day, so it feels amazing to be recognised at this level and be mentioned alongside incredible artists like Thelma Plum and Baker Boy.”

Fremantle blues-rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Carla Geneve, who’s been blitzing Western Australia’s WAM Music Awards these past two years, was voted AMPAL Emerging Songwriter for being an unpublished writer. She won for ‘The Right Reasons’ from the recent Dog Eared EP, and pocketed $5,000.

Geneve, who followed previous winners Mallrat and Kaiit, admitted: “I can’t say how excited I am to be even considered for the competition, let alone taking home a prize.

“I see myself as primarily a songwriter over anything else, so this means a lot to me. I’m excited to keep writing.”

For the first time in the comp, the 10 runners-up received $1,000 each. They included Gordi, The Teskey Bros, Lime Cordiale, Thelma Plum, Vera Blue and Washington, along with relative newcomers Annie Hamilton, Azure Ryder and Shannen James.

The full list of winners and their songs can be found here.

As reported earlier, the 2020 competition received a record 4,061 entries from 46 countries. The $203,000 raised from the 2020 entry fees goes to support the transformative work of Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Australia (NORO). It brings the total tally over 12 years of the competition to $1.4 million.

“The money will make a real difference and will allow us to continue to invest in program development and growing our physical footprint so we can assist more people through our life-changing music therapy programs,” said NORO CEO Belinda Leonard.

NORO sees over 1,300 people a week, utilising music in programs as Mini Rockers for Early Childhood, Guitars for Vets and Guitars for Firies in addition to music therapy programs in their own clinics and at aged care centres, schools, disability centres and hospitals.


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