Mau Power is the first rapper to ‘break out’ from Thursday Island in the Torres Straits. With proud heritage from the Dhoebaw Clan of the Guda Maluilgal nations, he was born and raised in the ‘Aylans’ and still lives in the Torres Strait.
For many years he’s been guided by two cultures – Indigenous culture and hip-hop culture – with the art of story telling providing the link between the two.
He’s just been announced as one of the premiere artists performing at Festival 2018, as part of the Commonwealth Games, which is no surprise, because he’s recently performed in London and Guam and had his music broadcast via youth icons Rage and triple j. He’s also collaborated with Australian music royalty and arguably the country’s best storyteller, Archie Roach.
Samantha Morris was honoured to speak with Mau Power about his appearance on the Gold Coast for Festival 2018.
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Storytelling is central to many cultures, but none so much as Australia’s first people. Mau Power says storytelling to him was his teaching ground. Where he learned about traditional life and the knowledge and responsibilities he had as a young boy transitioning through his teens and manhood. In his teenage years he worked in maritime and fisheries and the songs that were taught to him in childhood helped him navigate as well as provide for his family and community.
“The we have in songs and dances, taught me a lot of things in my life, and still do,” he said. “Today, I’m still drawing on those stories with creative arts and the businesses we have.”
Growing up on Thursday Island, Mau Power started interacting with his culture at 7 or 8 and decided he wanted to be a rapper when he was just 14. He says he remembers that rap-style energy coming through from older people in the community.
“They brought in the music, dance, rapping and we saw videos of these for first time – break dance and wild styles. I didn’t know what it was called at the time but I knew it was very accepting – everyone was a part of it and it made us feel good,” he said.
At the same time, Mau’s ARIA Award winning and internationally renowned grandfather, Seaman Dan gave him a guitar.
“At 11 he gave me my first guitar,” Mau said. “And that’s what stuck to me. I was in music, I started rapping and people liked what I was rapping.”
While Mau spent his adolescence listening to artists like Ice Cube, Ice T, Dr Dre, Snoop, Notorious Big and Tupac, there weren’t a lot of Indigenous artists hitting the charts, especially in that hip-hop / rap genre, but he’s stoked that things have changed.
“It’s really exciting,” he says, of the number of Indigenous artists getting radio play and charting. “It opens up the mind to see that now there’s real opportunity for people.”
“If you think of people like Baker Boy coming out of the NT – that was phenomenal – the flow on effect of knowing that we’re part of this culture – it’s very inspiring.”
Someone from a very remote part of Australia has a voice and can express their stories. Coming from a remote community that is exciting and empowering. Knowing that I’m just a part of this whole culture, this movement, is rewarding in itself.
And while there’s no question that Thursday Island is remote, Mau says it didn’t really feel that way growing up. It was just home. It was all he knew.
“There wasn’t a world outside. The music that came through got the mind wondering and we were curious of the outside. It was just that this was my world and this is what I knew. That was before the internet. Once it came in it opened up a new world. I got heavy on social media and using those platforms. I started up a marketing company and had that connection to the outside world.”
Mau says when he was starting out as an artist, no label or manager would touch him because of the remoteness.
“I said I’m going to start my own label and start to build that, bringing artists in and giving them opportunities, running workshops and showing people there’s another life out of here in the creative arts.”
“There are opportunities we don’t get to see up here. Everybody when I asked them and they looked up where we are– they say it’s so expensive to be able to travel out of Torres Strait. Once you work that out, it becomes easier. That was why I started the label – shooting our own music videos, then TV approached me to shoot documentaries. I had no idea how to shoot a documentary, but when they asked, I said yes, then spent hours online learning how to shoot, use cameras, and then that became another thing. Then the record label became a production company. Now I’m doing projects with Screen Queensland, Screen Australia, NITV, travelling the world,” he said.
His business partner JD Purdy was in media which also led to work in digital design and web development.
“This is where rest of the world is going, remote regions are going too,” Mau said.
Instead of waiting for the change, we’re the drivers of the change in our communities.
From humble beginnings Mau Power now travels the world to share his music. And next year he’ll be one of the headlining acts for Festival 2018 at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.
“It does feel surreal,” he says. “When you’re coming up and starting and writing raps, you dream and that’s what it stays at. It’s not until you start to have these little wins…”
“When I first found out the news [Festival 2018], playing at this event, you sit back and it’s like ‘wow, is this really happening’? It’s what I’ve been working for for many years – to be able to do bigger shows in Australia and to represent not just our region but the country itself – it’s really exciting.”
“You take a moment to appreciate it and look at the journey of the last 18 years,” he said. “Most of it was planning as we got to those moments. You have a win, you go to the next step.”
And after he jets around the world and gets home, how does that feel?
“It’s my grounding,” he said. “It’s why I’ve never left.”
“I get back home, I’m able to centre myself again. I go out on the boat, go camping, disconnect from the phones, do my gardening. It’s what balances my life.”
“In 2016 I was on the road for 40 weeks out of the year. It really took a toll – you get lost amongst the noise – and coming back home is my sanctuary to balance myself and be able to do the next leg.”
“It’s important that I’m here and can stay here and do what I do. I walk up and down the street and people know what I do, but I’m still put in my place by aunties and uncles and if they ask me to do something I do it.”
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Mau Power will release a new album around the time of his Festival 2018 performance and a national tour will follow.