Urban roots band come activists Blue King Brown are known for “wielding music as their weapon” – and their current target is human rights abuses in West Papua.
“I couldn’t believe this was happening on our doorstep and you could be jailed for 15 years just for raising a flag,” says outspoken dreadlocked lead singer Natalie Pa’apa’a, who is heading to SA with the band this month for the Gorgeous Festival in McLaren Vale.
One of the tracks on their playlist at Gorgeous will be the latest single “Rize Up”, which seeks to raise awareness of the plight of indigenous West Papuans, whose struggle for independence from Indonesia has been met with brutality and oppression.
Backing vocals on the recording and during the band’s recent tour came from Lea and Petra Rumwaropen, daughters of the late founder of the band The Black Brothers, which fled the country in 1979 and continued to make music protesting Indonesia’s policies while in exile.
“They are passionate about the struggle of their people,” Pa’apa’a says of the sisters.
“Working with them has been an honour … people connect with their story and how they had to flee West Papua.”
Activism targeting a range of human rights and global justice issues is an integral part of the music of Blue King Brown, which roused the WOMADelaide crowd with a powerful set in Botanic Park last year. Its upbeat reggae-roots album Worldwize features tracks with names such as “Say Peace”, “Women’s Revolution”, “Moment of Truth” and “Our Word is Our Weapon”.
Pa’apa’a, an ambassador for Amnesty International’s Arms Trade Treaty campaign, believes strongly in the ability of music to help shape a different world view.
“Music as a medium is definitely a powerful tool – in places like West Papua, some of the musicians who have sung about songs of freedom have been targeted just for playing music. You hear about that in many places around the world … musicians and artists being targeted because what they do inspires the public.”
Yet while she grew up with an awareness of racism and inequality (her mother worked for an Indigenous rights organisation in Melbourne), the singer says she didn’t set out with a plan to form an “activist” band.
“We just wanted to have a kick-arse band of really good musicians – we just wanted to make awesome music. The lyrics just came out that way.”
With musical influences such as Bob Marley, Rage Against the Machine and Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, perhaps that’s not surprising.
Following a Rize Up tour which took them to the United States, Canada and Europe, Melbourne-based Blue King Brown has been back in the studio working on a new album. Some of the tracks will get an airing at the Gorgeous Festival, where Pa’apa’a promises the vibe will be high-energy.
“We love playing live and we like to deliver something that is really musically powerful and also has a powerful message.
“We will be looking to get everyone up and dancing.”
Gorgeous Festival will be held on the grounds of Serafino Winery on November 22-23. Other acts on the program include the John Butler Trio, Lanie Lane, The Audreys and Eskimo Joe.
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