An emotional tribute to the late, much-loved Gunditjmara-Bundjalung songman 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 artists gathered on stage to pay tribute to their beloved Uncle Archie, who died last week after a long illness aged 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 beside you/Don’t you forget it/I’m with you walking down this road/Give up what’s inside you/You 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 were held under the stars in a live ceremony at the Darwin botanic gardens, on a perfect dry-season night, hosted by Kukuyalanji-Waanyi-Gangalidda-Woppaburra-Bundjalung-Biripi writer and performer Steven Oliver.
Earlier in the week, Oliver paid his respects to Roach, saying: “Some people will say that … we [have] lost a voice. But how do you lose a voice that’s become so ingrained within a people, a land and a country that it collectively becomes embedded within a spirit?
“More than a singer, he is a storyteller. More than a front man, he is a leader. More than a solo artist, he is so many of us hoping for a better, compassionate, truthful future,” Oliver said.
The night’s big winner was Yolngu superstar Baker Boy, who won artist of the year and album of the year for his debut, Gela.
Yolngu surf-rock band King Stingray won song of the year for the crowd favourite Milkumana, a song about passing on and sharing knowledge.
Malyangapa-Barkindji lyricist and musician Barkaa won film clip of the year for King Brown, a celebration of independent black women and the power of the black matriarchy.
Proving musical brilliance runs in the family, Gumbaynggirr-Bundjalung indie artist Jem Cassar-Daley won the new talent award. Jem is the daughter of country music legend Troy Cassar-Daley, who has won an astonishing 44 awards at the Country Music awards.
The Archie Roach Foundation award went to Murawari rapper and drummer Dobby.
The late Gurrumul was inducted into the hall of fame in a ceremony led by his brother and Saltwater Band co-founder Manuel Dhurrkay.
The evening hosted live performances by an incredible lineup 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 honoured to … be at the Amphitheater with community,” the awards’ creative director, Ben Graetz, said. “Celebrating together in person will be something I will remember for a very long time. Also to remember, honour and pay tribute to Dr G and Uncle Archie was a true highlight.”