Surprise special guests on new Midnight Oil song

 

 

Within seconds of listening to Midnight Oil's new single First Nation, you immediately recall their 1986 landmark song The Dead Heart.

The familiar thread is struck by the opening "doo doo doo doo doo doos", a refrain sung in unison by millions of fans over the decades at their gigs.

First Nation also shares its lyrical theme with The Dead Heart, both songs addressing the struggle of Australia's indigenous people for recognition and justice.

For all the similarities - the guitar interplay, the indomitable rhythm - a new Midnight Oil song in 2020 is different.

There are more voices, like Jessica Mauboy and Peter Garrett locked in a rich, melodic harmony and rapper Tasman Keith adding his gritty poetry.

"For a band who hasn't done much collaboration in the past - we've been in a bit of a cocoon - this has been such an eye-opener," Oils drummer Rob Hirst says.

"The First Nations artists really have added so much to the final result."

First Nation, which is released today, follows Gadigal Land as an introduction to the Makarrata Project, the revered activist rock band's first new music in almost two decades.

 

Rapper Tasman Keith, Midnight Oil's Rob Hirst and Jessica Mauboy in the studio. Picture: Supplied/ Robert Hambling
Rapper Tasman Keith, Midnight Oil's Rob Hirst and Jessica Mauboy in the studio. Picture: Supplied/ Robert Hambling

The seven songs and a reading of the Uluru Statement From The Heart are indeed a collaboration with Garrett, Hirst, Jim Moginie, Martin Rotsey and Bones Hillman inviting an eclectic roll call of indigenous artists to bring their talents to songs the members had written mostly since reuniting for The Great Circle world tour in 2017.

The creative direction for the mini album became apparent when the band members assembled for a songwriting "show and tell" at Hirst's home on Sydney's northern beaches to select potential cuts for a new record.

 

The Oils sans Bones Hillman who lives in the US and can’t travel because of COVID. Picture: Supplied/Daniel Boud
The Oils sans Bones Hillman who lives in the US and can’t travel because of COVID. Picture: Supplied/Daniel Boud

"It turned out there were more than 20 ... I brought in Gadigal Land and First Nation and a few others, which appear on the album which is coming out next year. Jim, of course, brought in a large number of songs, as he always does," Hirst recalls.

"And when we listened to the themes of the songs, a lot were based around the Uluru Statement From The Heart because we'd been out touring with that as a backdrop in Europe last year as well, that amazing document we had projected behind the band.

"So we keep (those songs) as a separate piece of work. And that we couldn't possibly do it without incorporating some of our friends and collaborators, past and present, on it, to give it its strength and authenticity."

 

Midnight Oil performed against an Uluru Statement backdrop in Europe. Picture: Awais Butt/Supplied by Midnight Oil
Midnight Oil performed against an Uluru Statement backdrop in Europe. Picture: Awais Butt/Supplied by Midnight Oil

 

Midnight Oil's decades-long activism supporting the groundswell for indigenous recognition and reconciliation, stretching back to the Blackfella/Whitefella tour of regional communities in 1986, also brings it own authenticity to these songs.

You expect music from the Oils in 2020 to push for movement on these issues, which Hirst says remain frustratingly in the "too hard basket" for Australian governments.

But in enlisting First Nation artists to write and record with them in 2020, Hirst says the band members were cognisant of elevating Indigneous voices in their music. They would be loud and front and centre, not backing vocals.

"I think that the common thread that we got from everyone, all of our collaborators, and that is basically 'We can't do this alone. We need everyone on our side,'" Hirst says.

"After all, First Nations people only make up just three per cent (of Australia's population), so it is a massive task to cut through."

 

 

Hirst and his bandmates have maintained a relationship with indigenous musicians and communities both collectively and individually.

The drummer recalls their soul-searching journey 20 years ago to Papunya in the Northern Territory to figure out if they should perform at the Sydney Olympics closing ceremony, where they would go on to make their own Sorry statement in front of the world.

"And it was really Yothu Yindi's appearance that had been confirmed that swayed us in favour of performing … the two of us doing it would be strong because it would appear as a combined forces on this topic," he says.

"Here we are, 20 years down the track, with an even more important document which needs to be enshrined in the Constitution and we can't get to the next point without us all getting together."

 

The Oils are on a mission to support the actions outlined in the Uluru Statement with their new mini album. Picture: News Corp Australia.
The Oils are on a mission to support the actions outlined in the Uluru Statement with their new mini album. Picture: News Corp Australia.

The band will donate their proceeds from the Makarrata Project to support the Uluru Statement mission and Hirst says they hope to tour next year with these songs.

"We would love to be able to perform these songs live with our collaborators, and that's always been the best way for us to get to people, to play live," he says.

"So hopefully, if the schedules fit and the dreaded plague goes away and the borders are opened, we can play these songs next year."

 

First Nation is released on Friday and the Makarrata Project on October 30

 

 

 

 

Midnight Oil hope to perform their new songs next year. Picture: News Corp Australia.
Midnight Oil hope to perform their new songs next year. Picture: News Corp Australia.

 

 

 

 

THE MAKARRATA PROJECT

First Nation (feat. Jessica Mauboy & Tasman Keith)

Gadigal Land (feat. Dan Sultan, Joel Davison, Kaleena Briggs & Bunna Lawrie)

Change The Date (feat. Gurrumul Yunupingu & Dan Sultan)

Terror Australia (feat. Alice Skye)

Desert Man, Desert Woman (feat. Frank Yamma)

Wind In My Head [Makarrata version] (feat Kev Carmody & Sammy Butcher)

Uluru Statement From The Heart (read by Pat Anderson, Stan Grant, Adam Goodes, Ursula Yovich & Troy Cassar-Daley)

Come On Down (feat. Troy Cassar-Daley)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Originally published as Surprise special guests on new Midnight Oil song


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