A moving tribute to the late and much-loved Gunditjmara-Bundjalung singer Archie Roach was at the heart of the National Indigenous Music Awards in Darwin on Saturday night.
Led by Emma Donovan and Fred Leone, a group of performers including Shellie Morris, Leah Flanagan, Birdz, Yirrmal and William Barton gathered on stage to pay their respects to their beloved Uncle Archie, who died last week of complications from a long illness at the age of 66.
They performed We Won’t Cry from his 2012 album Into the Bloodstream. Many in the crowd wiped away tears as they sang the uplifting ballad: “I’m here by your side/Don’t forget it/I’m with you walking this road/Let go of what’s inside of you/You don’t won’t regret it/Together we can lighten this load.
For the first time in two years, due to Covid restrictions, the National Indigenous Music Awards took place under the stars in a live ceremony in Darwin’s Botanic Gardens on a perfect seasonal night dry, organized by Kukuyalanji-Waanyi-Gangalidda-Woppaburra -Bundjalung-Biripi writer and performer Steven Olivier.
Earlier in the week, Oliver paid tribute to Roach, saying, “Some people will say that…we [have] lost a voice. But how do you lose a voice that has become so rooted in a people, a land and a country that it becomes collectively anchored in a spirit?
“More than a singer, he is a storyteller. More than a straw man, he is a leader. More than a solo artist, he is so many of us who hope for a better, compassionate and truthful future,” Oliver said.
The big winner of the evening was Superstar Yolngu Baker Boywho won Artist of the Year and Album of the Year for his debut album, Gela.
Surf-rock band Yolngu King Stingray won song of the year for crowd favorite Milkumanaa song about the transmission and sharing of knowledge.
Malyangapa-Barkindji lyricist and musician Barkaa won music video of the year for Brown Kinga celebration of independent black women and the power of black matriarchy.
To prove that musical genius is in the family, Jem Cassar-Daley, freelance artist from Gumbaynggirr-Bundjalung won the New Talent Award. Jem is the daughter of country music legend Troy Cassar-Daley, who won 44 gold guitar awards at the Country Music Awards.
The Archie Roach Foundation Prize was awarded to Rapper and drummer Murawari Dobby.
The late Gurrumul was inducted into the Hall of Fame in a ceremony conducted by his brother and co-founder of the Saltwater Band, Manuel Dhurrkay.
The evening hosted live performances from an incredible line-up of First Nations talent including King Stingray, Birdz and Fred Leone, Emma Donovan and the Putbacks, Yirrmal and the Red Flag Dancers.
“[I’m] so honored to be at the Amphitheater with the community,” said awards creative director Ben Graetz. “Celebrating together in person will be something I will remember for a very long time. Also, remembering, honoring and honoring Dr. G and Uncle Archie was a real highlight.