Rapper, comedian and author Adam Briggs talks about sharing a different Indigenous perspective with his new kids’ book, Our Home, Our Heartbeat.
Tell us where you’re from?
I’m from Victoria. I’m from Shepparton. That’s where I grew up. That’s where I spent most of my time.
Tell us about your family?
I’m from a giant family. We had the whole community as well. We had the extended family – there was like 100 plus of cousins and second cousins.
You talk about your family helping shape who you are as a rapper. Tell us about this.
I was the youngest in my generation – the youngest and chubbiest of all them. So I was getting roasted as soon as I could walk. It’s a loud bunch of people, you got to learn how to be quick and loud and stand up for yourself. Not to say it was a battle, because everyone was super loving and super caring. But it was really chaotic, especially at my Nan’s where I spent most of my time. It was really chaotic but super fun.
What would your younger self think about your new book?
It’s hard for me to think what would have changed if I’d had this book when I was a kid. The point of if was to normalize Indigenous success and the contributions to different industries and the community and even the international community. Let’s make it normal for all kids, not just Indigenous kids. So Indigenous talk is not such a far-out thing.
I wanted to include different little history lessons of people they may never have heard of. So these names and faces are etched into their psyche and memories, so they remember the name Cathy Freeman or whoever else it might be.
My kids and I learnt loads from the book about the different Indigenous Australians and their achievements. It’s hard to find that information in other books.
Yeah, it’s not collected and collated and presented in a very simple way. Kids don’t need gigantic bios start to finish. They can do that when they get to high school. At this point, they just need a little fact. Each person did this, really simple. And I think that’s more meaningful. Hopefully, if it’s something they enjoy, they’ll burn these little facts into their memories. If we can do that, maybe we can change the dynamic and dialogues that the next generations will have with their Indigenous classmates, friends, or people in the streets. So it won’t be so alien to them.
Was it hard to move away from traditional drawing for the book?
No, because I didn’t want to do that. We’ve already had that. I wanted to do a book I wanted to see, or I would appreciate. I was never saying that the Dreamtime is over. It was never about that. It was like okay, but what else? How else can I add to this spectrum to help paint the picture?
If all the music we had out was only classical music, sure, we’d have some genius and overdeveloped kids, but we wouldn’t have any fun. You need some pop. You need something that’s accessible.
I hate everything being one note. It’s the same way I approach my music. If you want to be respected as an Indigenous artist, you better be reminiscent and mournful, and then we’ll listen to you when you talk about your struggles.
Everything is framed in this really negative way in the sense of music, and there’s this big one note. I was like everything in the arts and books for kids — the Dreamtime stories, which are all fantastic, and all the artwork is amazing and fantastic. But cool, we have that. Let’s not do that, because people who are really good at that are already doing it. Here’s my contribution. It’s not here to take away. It’s here to add.
How did you go about finding the illustrator in the end? Was that a tough choice?
No, it was really easy. I knew straightaway. I wanted it to be really super vibrant. I wanted everything to be bright and colourful and not like earthy ochre tones. I wanted it to really pop. I really wanted it to look like just a big blob of syrup on the shelf.
I’ve worked before with Kate Moon. Rachael Sarra did all the background stuff, which is where all the characters live. Kate Moon, who is this amazing artist did all the faces and all the kids. She’s really clever. It’s weird — they’re cartoon to a point but then they’re not. They could almost be creepy, but they’re not.
What about who did you look up to as a kid?
I was such a consumer of all sorts of media and entertainment. I didn’t have too many Indigenous heroes outside of Gavin Wanganeen when I was a kid. There wasn’t that many shown to us. That was part of the reason for the book as well.
Not a lot of Indigenous excellence was televised or shown to us. I didn’t really get a full appreciation for everything until I was a bit older. All the heroes I had were mostly American rappers and comedians and cartoons.
I think every kid in the ’90s was mad on Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal and Ice Cube and Snoop Dog. That was the extent of it — Eddie Murphy. Those were the heroes that you’d look to, I guess. It’s really strange to think these people weren’t really celebrated. Australia is really good about pretending to not care about something as well, don’t make a fuss. It’s detrimental. Sometimes it’s good to make a fuss.
What’s the reaction been to the book?
It’s probably one of the better-received things I’ve done in a long time. It’s very rare that I get to do something nice. People are surprised when I do something that’s genuinely accessible for everybody.
What’s your current feelings — are you seeing any kind of changes with the way the relationship between Indigenous and non-indigenous?
I think so, but I’m also seeing a lot of resistance. As much change as I see, I still almost feel as much resistance to it, which is part of the balance, I guess.
Why do you think that is?
People don’t like to change. They feel like quality and equity means less for them I think, and Australians have this great idea of if it ain’t broke why fix it. It’s like well, it’s broke. It’s very broken.
Everyone isn’t as politically engaged in Australia as they are in other parts of the world. They’re not as informed to what’s happening. I think that’s part of it. You just have to look at the very top, and you can see where our engagement is with the dialogue between Indigenous Australia and the rest of Australia.
Interpersonally, we’re pretty good. Things like this inherent kind of racism that floats around this country because that’s what it was founded on — the colonies, through white supremacy. The expansion of the colonist and the white race by any means necessary.
Those kinds of attitudes are really hard to pivot when people feel threatened that their way of life is going to be attacked. That’s what they always come back to with their scare campaigns against — in the ’90s it was Asians, and now it’s Muslims. You can’t afford to get tired or exhausted from it because it’s not done yet. You have to pace yourself.
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Image Source: theaustralian.com.au & hardiegrant.com