Call for an Indigenous Category at Australia’s Music Awards

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A panel of Indigenous artists Down Under have called for an award category to recognize their music in the Australian Recording Industry Association Awards (ARIA Awards). These awards are similar to Canada’s Junos or the Grammys in the US and the call came out of a panel discussion entitled “Cultural Creative Collaborations” at the inaugural Song Summit Sydney on April 4.

Indigenous hip-hop artist Brotha Black is quoted in an article published by The West Australian as stating that the category would help Aboriginal artists gain much needed mainstream attention for their music.

I think there’s proof for this line of thinking. In Canada, the “Aboriginal Recording of the Year” Juno wins for Leela Gilday and Derek Miller have helped move them onto bigger stages and Gilday recently opened for Feist while Miller just wrapped up recording sessions with the Double Trouble Band and the legendary Willie Nelson. Of course, their talent plays a major role in their success, but I also think the profile of the award has definitely helped open these doors.

So we’ve been having this debate in Canada for a while now and the Aboriginal music community has seen some success. There’s the Juno category, the Western Canadian Music Awards category, the East Coast Music Awards category and two national music award shows dedicated to the Aboriginal community (Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards and the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards).

But there still are award shows in Canada that fall on the other side of the coin so I think it’s good to figure out what two sides are.

Here’s the sides of the debate that I know of:

For an Aboriginal category:
- Traditional Aboriginal music is what makes any given territory special and is often at the forefront of international perceptions about the music coming out of the region
- The Aboriginal population is growing and awards shows that are interested in developing new audiences should invest resources in Aboriginal artists and music
- There are Aboriginal recording artists, Aboriginal music record labels, Aboriginal media outlets (including broadcasters), Aboriginal venues, Aboriginal music festivals, and Aboriginal music award shows and this sector of the music industry is just as strong and diverse as its folk, jazz and even country counterparts

Against an Aboriginal category:
- Aboriginal categories “ghettoize” the artists and the music
- There aren’t enough releases to justify an Aboriginal category
- If we do an Aboriginal category, we’ll have to do categories for every other cultural group

I’m interested to know if I’m leaving any points out, so be sure to leave a comment with your perspective or knowledge below.

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