Form Guide: 7 acts to make the trek to Barunga worthwhile
Barunga Festival has become one of the biggest musical events on the Northern Territory calendar and, 33 years on from its inception, its line ups are stronger than ever.
Previous years have seen huge headliners like Paul Kelly, Courtney Barnett, Jessica Mauboy and Missy Higgins make their way to Barunga – a 70km drive from Katherine – to experience what this eye-opening and enriching cultural event.
But this year the festival is keeping things (largely) quite local. Of course, local is a relative term when talking about this part of the world – many of these artists will travel a very, very, very long way to get here – but the line up is predominantly made up of Northern Territory based acts.
That’s a very, very good thing.
While you might imagine the big names are a tantalising carrot for those on the fence about heading to the event, no one ever comes back from Barunga raving about the headliners. It’s always the lesser known acts that blow the visitors away and get the crowds really fired up at the festival.
So here are just 7 of the many highlights that will be happening at Barunga Festival this June. It’s not too late to book a flight…
If you want more information on what goes on up there, read Myf Warhurst’s review of the 2016 event.
Saltwater Band will headline Barunga with what we’re guessing will be a beautiful and deeply emotional tribute to their deceased bandmate, Dr G Yunupingu.
In the late 90s, after Dr G’s time with Yothu Yindi was done, he formed Saltwater Band with some friends from his homeland, Galiwin'ku. The band became hugely successful across the entire country and released three excellent records before Dr G’s solo career took off.
While the circumstances remain unbelievably sad, the music of Saltwater Band suggests that this will be an uplifting celebration of the great man’s life and his contributions to music.
Shellie Morris and Dhapanbal Yunupingu
Shellie Morris is one of the most vital figures in bringing together contemporary music and traditional language, it’s something she has now been doing for quite some time. She’s a brilliant singer and interpreter of song and her music is not just beautiful, but hugely empowering as well.
We’ve only recently come across the music of Dhapanbal Yunupingu, but she’s already proving to be one of the most promising emerging talents out of Central Australia, no doubt doing her dearly departed father very proud.
These two women performing together at Barunga promises to be the kind of enriching musical experience that you just can’t have anywhere else.
Yirrmal has it all. An unbelievable voice, plenty of onstage charm and a bunch of really great songs. While there’s no doubt the songs are only gonna get better, it’s still a great time to see this young man. He’s eager, playing shows and festivals all over the country, and developing into a real world-class talent.
“This powerful performance brought me to tears, inspired me and filled my heart and soul,” Kasey Chambers, our Artist In Residence for June, said about his show at Boomerang Festival.
When Myf Warhurst went to Barunga in 2016, she came back raving about the whole experience and a few new bands she’d discovered.
“Tiwi Islands boy band B2M got the kind of screams normally reserved for The Beatles,” she wrote upon her return.
This collective of musicians have been at it since 2004 and are a favourite of the Northern Territory music scene thanks to their slick R&B with unique Top End twist.
They also a decidedly positive message to spread through their music, singing about the effects of drugs and alcohol, about suicide, and about the importance of positivity.
These absolute superstars are a vital part of the Barunga party.
These guys are always a huge hit of Barunga, and for damn good reason. The Hunter, Lonely Boys' EP of last year, is a collection of freewheeling, powerful, joyous rock’n’roll that serves as an instant energy jolt in any situation.
The band became something of a viral hit last year when they were hand-picked to support Queens of the Stone Age at their first ever Darwin show. No doubt the experience has put even more fire in the belly of this rock’n’roll juggernaut and the crowds at Barunga – who famously go absolutely nuts for this band – will be ready to show them plenty of love.
Ripple Effect Band
Eight talented women from the community of Maningrida come together to make the kind of super catchy, upbeat rock’n’roll that is just perfect for a festival environment.
Their music reflects the multi-lingual nature of their community – they sing in four different traditional languages as well as English – and it makes me want to learn them all.
I love the guitar solo in ‘Nguddja’ especially. It’s messy but impassioned and the way its laid-back feel slots in between the bubbly choruses is such a glorious contrast.
Black Rock Band
One of the newer names on the line up and one of the most promising young acts coming out of Central Australia right now.
Black Rock Band went through the hugely influential Bush Bands program last year and are now well-equipped to take their infectious, energetic rock’n’roll to the masses. They’ve been playing quite a lot of shows in the past year or so and are slowly getting their name out there to music lovers across the country.
The Kakadu band won Best Community Band at Barunga last year and their triumphant return to the festival in 2018 is going to see them in even finer form than before.
Barunga Festival happens in Barunga from Friday 8 to Sunday 10 June.