Born in Darwin and raised in the remote Northern Territory communities of Milingimbi and Maningrida, Danzel Baker is the first Indigenous artist to have mainstream success rapping in Yolngu Matha.
His music career skyrocketed last year after he won the Triple J Unearthed National Indigenous Music Awards competition, and his two singles reached number 17 (“Marryuna”) and 76 (“Cloud 9”) in the Triple J Hottest 100 countdown last weekend.
In March, the 21-year-old will perform at WOMADelaide for the first time as a solo artist.
“It’s unbelievable – I’m really keen and I just can’t wait,” Baker tells InDaily.
“I’ve performed on the stage before at WOMAD and it was with the [dance] group Djuki Mala [in 2017], but now I’m going to be there just being me, just being Baker Boy.”
The young hip-hop artist is learning to embrace his newfound popularity away from his family and friends in the Northern Territory.
“Arnhem Land is quiet, it’s beautiful. You go fishing and hunting every day. You smell the fresh air from the ocean and go swimming – but you’ve got to watch out for crocodiles.
“Adelaide is like, heaps of people, a lot of cars, lots of opportunities. It’s very different.”
Baker grew up with hip-hop in his blood, and credits his family with sparking his passion for performing.
“Growing up with my dad and uncles, they all started dancing back in the ’80s to hip-hop music and they kind of influenced me.
“Hanging around them so much got me that feeling of falling in love with hip-hop and what it meant to all people from America – African-Americans, in particular.
“It’s an amazing culture that involves all different art forms and performances… making music, freedom of speech, poetry… and that’s why I fell in love with it; it’s got a message behind the song, it’s got what it meant to that person.”
His passion for music took him to Brisbane, where he studied performing arts. There, he met Michael Farah, co-founder of Indigenous Hip Hop Projects (IHHP), who got him involved in the program.
Baker travelled to Melbourne and, with the help of Farah and the producers at IHHP, recorded his first hit single, “Cloud 9”, in which he raps in both English and Yolngu Matha.
“I feel really honoured to make tracks that people listen to.
“The tracks that I make are not actually for myself or to make me feel better; it’s for everyone else to feel better.”
For Baker, language is an important part of his songwriting.
“I rap in Yolngu Matha because there’s young kids at home that don’t really understand English as much as Yolngu Matha. I rap in English and English speakers understand what I’m saying.
“There’s a lot of people who came up to me and said, ‘Do you have lyrics and where is this Yolngu Matha dictionary? I want to learn this language’, and when I heard that it made me feel proud that I actually changed the way they feel and see things.
“It keeps the language strong and continues it for the next generation to learn it and keep it going.”
Baker says he looks forward to sharing his culture in Adelaide, and plans to perform some new tracks at WOMADelaide from his soon-to-be released album.
“I’ve got a couple of dancers coming down as well. I’m going to have a few people who were featured in the track.
“Hopefully I’ll be having my cousin to come join me for ‘Marryuna’ on the stage.
“There’s going to be a lot of amazing people that are going to be performing on stage and I’d love to hang around and watch them perform. That’s what I love about festivals – they just bring people together.”
The 2018 WOMADelaide Festival will take place in Botanic Park from March 9-12, with Baker Boy performing on both the Friday and Saturday nights. Read more about this year’s line-up here.
Baker Boy will also be performing at this year’s Groovin the Moo festival at Wayville Showgrounds on April 27.
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