APY Lands rappers Dem Mob riff on Black Lives Matter, their dreaming, and life in community


For speakers of Pitjantjatjara, listening to Dem Mob’s music can be a bit of a shock to the system.

“Pitjantjatjara is a language that is completely flat all the time,” said Elisha Umuhuri, one third of the Pukatja-based rap trio.

“The melody never changes that much, so us remaking the language, making it something of our own, is pretty scary.”

Pitjantjatjara is the first language spoken by many in the remote Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands of far north South Australia.

It is the second most widely spoken Indigenous language in Australia, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

An aerial view of an outback settlement.
Matt Gully said the the Pukatja community had rallied around the boys and their success.(ABC Alice Springs: Samantha Jonscher)

Dem Mob started as a school-based project at the start of the year.

Just months later, the three boys produced a music video, performed at two Adelaide festivals, and in Alice Springs.

They rap in English and Pitjantjatjara, and Elisha said they hoped people outside their community got to understand more about their world.

“We want to share our stories, our culture, and our land. We can’t invite everyone here, but we can do it through our music — give people a big insight on our world.”

Three young men in embrace inthe street of an outback town.
Dem Mob is Nason Lawrie, Jontae Lawrie, and Elisha Umuhuri.(ABC Alice Springs: Samantha Jonscher)

Evolving the language

The three teenagers rap about the Black Lives Matter movement, their dreaming, and life in community.

“One of our songs Get Out the House is about motivating and driving our people, because when people become adults they sit around and do jack-all with their lives,” Elisha said.

“That’s something we want to change.”

Elisha said he was proud to give Pitjantjatjra a platform, but learning to rap in the ancient language had been a challenge.

“We are rearranging words and changing grammar slightly so that things rhyme well,” he said.

Eighteen-year-old Jontae Lawrie said it was fun taking the language to new places.

“[We’re] showing that our language can be unlocked to a new thing like rapping,” Jontae said.

He has rapped since he was little, and said Dem Mob was an opportunity to tell people about his past and how he had grown since the project started.

“I was going through some tough things, I was doing bad things, I wasn’t going to school,” he said.

“But I’m happy now, I’m proud.”

Role models

Music teacher at the Ernabella Anangu School, Matt Gully, said Dem Mob were becoming role models for their community.

“At the start it was very ‘what’s this? What’s this hip hop stuff?’

“Kids are looking up to them. We’ve got fellas at school who have started rapping in language in the classroom as well.”

Matt Gully
Matt Gully said the trio was challenging stereotypes about young people in Central Australia.(ABC Alice Springs: Samantha Jonscher)

Mr Gully said that the boys were also challenging the expectations that people have for young Indigenous men in Central Australia, where youth crime is often in the news.

“There’s a narrative around young fellas, what they’re doing, and what they could be doing,” Mr Gully said.

Atlanta Black Star | Africa


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