Features August 6, 2018

“They’re telling their stories” – MusicNT’s Mark Smith reflects on 15 years of the NIMAs

Velvet Winter
Staff Writer
“They’re telling their stories” – MusicNT’s Mark Smith reflects on 15 years of the NIMAs

The National Indigenous Music Awards are well into their teens with 2018’s fast-approaching event marking its 15th iteration.

Born as the NT Indigenous Music Awards back in 2004, the NIMAs have consistently provided a platform celebrate the amazing work coming out of our First Nation’s music community.

2018’s Awards are unique in that many of the artists nominated are also the artists that you’ve seen pop up on the Hottest 100, triple j and even commercial radio.

This thrust of First Nations artists into national notoriety is what has MusicNT executive director Mark Smith really excited.

“It’s great that these particular acts have been able to get the formula right and create these amazing songs that, for them, they’re doing it their way,” Smith told TMN.

In particular, Smith highlighted the success of acts who sing in language, such as Baker Boy who raps in both English and Yolŋu Matha, or Darwin quartet Kardajala Kirridarra who sing in both Mudburra and English.

“They’re telling their stories their way rather than trying to have to battle writing English, which might be their third or fourth language.

“I think that opportunity and then at the same time those songs have actually been connected with the broader audience, you know, the industry and radio networks have got behind and supported. It just feels that it’s a bit of a watershed moment, which is really great.”

Among all the bright up-and-comers on the nominees’ list, one name stands out in bittersweet recognition.

Dr G Yunupingu released his final album Djarimirri (Child Of The Rainbow) posthumously in April to universal critical acclaim so it’s no surprise that the LP is up for Album of The Year and the title track is in the running for Single Of The Year.

Having collected a number of NIMAs during his career, Smith reflects on the path carved by Yunupingu for young First Nations artists and the legacy he has left.

“I think that there’s this history of particular musicians that have struck a chord. And Gurrumul is one, to an extreme level who’s obviously done that,” Smith said.

“The legacy and effect of having a posthumous number one album… I think that the fact that the movie is now achieving all its success and there’s almost a next wave of awareness of what he’s done and what he’s achieved.

“And a lot of it is seeing this level of success, you know, at this massive level of the industry. Gurrumul has achieved this amazing level of success across both Australia and internationally. And young musicians are seeing that and thinking it’s possible.

“It doesn’t matter as much where you come from. There are opportunities out there for you to push your music out to the world and without feeling like that artist is compromising [themselves]. His mark will be on the music scene for a long time to come.”

As for who is going to emerge victorious at the awards this September, Smith is keeping tight-lipped, but with a list of nominees like the 2018 NIMAs there’s really no losers.

“It’s been a really big year where there’s been high-level success with a number of acts in slightly different areas. You know obviously, there are acts like Baker Boy that have done almost every festival in the country and a really strong showing in music polls and through radio,” Smith said.

“And there’s a number of acts like Electric Fields, who I’ve seen, that they’re about to be shown in the UK and Europe. So there’s a number of acts around that I would definitely think are in contention and that just seems really healthy.”


The National Indigenous Music Awards will take place on Saturday, 11 August, as a part of Darwin Festival. For more information and to get tickets head over to the official website.

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