In Aboriginal dreamtime, the story goes that the white cockatoo engulfs himself in flames as a sacrifice to help the people around him. From the fire, he emerges black, carrying new lessons and scars that become symbols for hope, resurrection and selflessness. It’s a parallel that rapper, Nooky, tells me he draws into his initiative We Are Warriors – a collective aimed at uplifting Indigenous voices, talents and role models. This year, on January 26th – a day that symbolises the beginning of a long history of brutal and violent colonisation in Australia – marks its first birthday. And in celebration Nooky, alongside many other collaborators, have worked together to produce the “Blakpowerhouse,” at the powerhouse museum in Sydney.
“We launched ‘We Are Warriors’ on January 26. And look, there was no other day to do it,” Nooky says as he scurries to make last minute adjustments to the event. 3000 people have RSVP’d.“This day means a lot to my people: a day of sorrow, a day of mourning, but it's also a day of survival. For me it was about breathing new hope and new life into that day where there's a lot of sadness, a lot of bad things.”On the roster to perform are artists that have quickly become big names on the Australian music circuit; Kobie Dee, Barkaa, Dobby, Mi-Kaisha, Kanada the Loop and Nooky himself. As they fill the stage, each performs with their own individualised vibrancy while connecting on Gadigal land. One crowd member in particular hands the Aboriginal flag back and forth between artist and audience as they take turns to wave it between songs.
Half the crowd stand in tears as Barkaa performs “Fight For Me”, an ode to her daughter who stands behind the decks next to the artist’s DJ, Irena Flywaves. “You can’t see what you can’t be,” is a message that reverberates around the crowd. “We survived genocide,” Nooky says.“As soon as you're born into this world blak, there's some things you need to face. Just everyday living and surviving is blak excellence. You’ve got to work twice as hard to get half the recognition. And that strength and grit that the mob have, that's blak excellence. You'll see a lot of that here tonight.”
The event’s roster is joined by speakers Emily Mcdaniel (Director, First Nations Powerhouse Museum), Luke Currie-Richardson, Sharie Sebbens (The Sapphires) and the extremely young Penny Towney, who runs a panel session with unbridled gumption. It’s preceded by the film, “Through the Fire”, that ties in the black cockatoo to Nooky’s own experience of finding success in music in Australia, including interviews from highly-successful Indigenous models, DJ’s and artists.It’s a poignant event on a day that brings much sorrow and mourning, and straying from the trauma-oriented hellscape narrative that the media love to circulate, it’s a refreshing breath of indigenous celebration. A showcase of leaders giving young Indigenous kids a physical goal to reach: “You can’t see what you can’t be.”
“Being a warrior is knowing yourself and being honest and accepting of who you are. Going out and living your life, trying your best to succeed, and providing for your family and staying solid,” says Nooky. “I hope people leave here tonight with a bit of positivity and a new lease on what today could mean. And a few tips on paying the rent.”Correction: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly named Dobby. We regret the error and apologise.Listen to Nooky’s new single “We Are Warriors” (released Jan 26th, 2023) here. Follow Julie Fenwick on Twitter and Instagram.Read more from VICE Australia and subscribe to our weekly newsletter, This Week Online.