This year's winner of the Australian Music Prize marks an important milestone in Australia's musical history. The winning album — Reclaim Australia, by the hip-hop duo A.B. Original — is the first in the prize's 12 years to have been made by indigenous artists.
The $30,000 prize, announced yesterday, is similar to Canada's Polaris Music Prize or Britain's Mercury Prize; a panel of experts from around the country are assembled to debate the year's best (unlike Polaris, the AMP tends to lean a little further afield in the records it selects).
A.B. Original is made up of Adam Briggs, who raps as Briggs, and Daniel Rankine, who raps and produces as Trials; Reclaim Australia is an anthemic and golden-era-referencing punch of political polemic. The album's title refers to the far-right Reclaim Australia movement, an anti-Muslim and anti-immigration group which has held rallies throughout the country. (The group's full name: All Black, Original.) The album's lead single, "January 26," is a reference to the country's Australia Day holiday, when the first fleet of British ships arrived on the continent in 1788 — hardly a cause for celebration for the people already there. "That's that land-taking / flag-waving attitude," goes one lyric.
Reclaim Australia was released by independent label Golden Era Records, which released Homemade Bombs, Brigg's debut EP, as well as The Hangover, the debut of Funkoars, the originating group of Trials, in 2009. Briggs also runs his own label, Bad Apples Music, which puts out records from other indigenous artists. Speaking to Rolling Stone Australia about its formation, Briggs said: "There hasn't been a wide spectrum of ideas and stories" in Australian rap, "especially from a black point of view." (Imagine hearing that sentiment stateside.)
Briggs was also awarded song of the year last August by the National Indigenous Music Awards for "The Children Came Back," a spiritual sequel to the 1990 Archie Roach song "They Took The Children Away," about Roach's experience of being taken away from his parents by authorities and placed in a mission home, a stolen child. (A similar program was implemented in the U.S. which saw Native American children sent to schools for "re-acculturation.")
Speaking to The Guardian of the group's win over the other nominees, which included Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds and DD Dumbo, Briggs said: "It sucks to be them ... Normally it sucks to be us!"