Halfway through our interview Michael Graham stops me mid-question. “We might just see what these kids want,” he says, grinning slightly. I juggle phones and cameras as five young boys climb all over him, posing for photos and shaking his hand. In the background of each snap is the Walgett Showground and a stage where Troy Cassar-Daley is playing for a crowd of several hundred locals. Graham (stage name MC Boomalli) is a proud Gamilaroi man whose rap music tackles local social issues with a maturity and complexity that belies his nineteen years. Opening for Cassar-Daley and Paul Kelly, Graham takes to the stage with confidence and three old mates from Collarenebri Central School (located a hundred kilometres north-east of Walgett). In the course of two songs and some banter with the crowd, he manages to cover land rights, the Stolen Generation, and welfare dependence, noting that his people have “survived invasion, segregation, and the Act”. Delivered over an unusual hybrid of didgeridoo and synths, such heavy subject matter does not dampen Graham’s energy on stage, where he swaggers between his microphone and those of the backup artists. The crowd chants for another song—he ducks off the stage, has a quick word to the sound guy, and jogs back, arms outstretched.
Graham and his fellow members of The Colli Crew got their big break 5 years ago, courtesy of a youth program called Desert Pea Media. “They came out to the school for Harmony Day and wanted to make a track,” Graham tells me, having shooed his admirers away. “So we got one laid down and it’s been going good ever since.”
Graham speaks confidently, identifying “peer pressure, as well as drugs, alcohol and kids not going to school” as central issues faced by his small community. He suggests that both adults and children should try and be role models.
“If kids see adults doing the bad stuff they think it’s okay, like fighting, drinking, and drugs as well. It circulates. It starts and goes round and round until it’s caught in this big tornado where everyone is doing it. It’s happening frequently and it’s just not slowing down. It’s building up.”
As for the music anyone who gives a mid-song “shout out to Mabo and Charlie Perkins,” nominates Drake as his favourite rapper, and visits his old school the following morning with the Freedom Ride deserves all of the attention he is getting.
Graham will be performing at Sydney University on the 20th of March.