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Tasman Keith didn't come here to point fingers

Tasman Keith, whose debut album <em>A Colour Undone</em> released July 8, 2022.
Jordan Munns
Courtesy of the artist
Tasman Keith, whose debut album A Colour Undone released July 8, 2022.

In rural eastern Australia, along a winding river, is a tiny town with a hard history — and a thriving hip-hop scene. Bowraville is a "mission" — an indigenous community established in the 19th century to be deliberately segregated from the white population.

Tasman Keith grew up in Bowraville. He's a rapper, like his dad before him, who uses his music to make sense of the history wrapped around his home and community.

"Post-colonization, government and churches used the missions as a place to segregate and try to whitewash our history," Keith says in an interview with All Things Considered. "Over time, the place that is the mission is now a place of pride, and something that we've kind of claimed as like, you know, all of our family is here so let's enjoy that."

All Things Considered co-host Ari Shapiro caught up with Keith to hear about the road that led to his new album, A Colour Undone, which is out today.

This conversation has been edited and condensed.

Ari Shapiro, All Things Considered: What role does hip-hop play in turning a place of oppression and division into a place of community and pride?

Tasman Keith: It has a role of giving us a voice in a country where we were pretty much voiceless for the longest amount of time. I think that's definitely why a lot of us turned to hip-hop, or music in general, because it was our way of speaking our opinion and changing what needs to be changed through music.

There's a track on this album called "Proud" – does that speak to some of what we're talking about here?

Yeah, for sure. It also speaks on how, sometimes, being born as a person of color – and indigenous – there's a pressure on you to do it for many reasons, that you kind of just get thrown into. Before you do that, it's very important to just to make sure that within, inside yourself, that you are okay to do that. So for me, it's like, making sure that I'm good and I'm in a position where I'm understanding of my things, personally, understanding of my community, and also understanding of the outside world and the lack of knowledge they have, and coming to it with that point of view.

This is your inheritance – and when I say that, I don't just mean the history you're inheriting. You're the son of a rapper.

Yeah. Yup, I am. It's wild – it's something that I grew up thinking was totally normal, to be honest. [Laughs] I grew up at 8, 9, 10 years old being onstage with my father. Him and my mom were split for quite a few years, so he'd have us every second weekend and sometimes he'd have shows at the same time and he'd be like, "Okay, I've got to put my sons on stage with me."

What role did you see that playing in his life, that you thought later "Well maybe this could do the same thing for me"?

I think it was the freedom of having a voice and doing what you love. My dad was doing it in a time where I think Australia wasn't ready for some of the things he was saying. Therefore, I did see him being quite broke and in poverty – and then some weeks, it would be the complete opposite, because of a payday from a show. But regardless he still did it for the love of music and creativity.

Do you think Australia is ready for the things that you're saying now, a generation later?

I believe so. I think what my father has taught me – I don't tend to point the finger. [I come from] a place of understanding [that], at the end of the day, everybody is human and we all have a lack of knowledge that we can expand on.

To hear the rest of this conversation, use the audio player at the top of this page.

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Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.