Barunga Beats – 2023 Update!

What is the Barunga Beats Program?

Barunga Beats is a music workshop program for Barunga School students to hone their musical skills in specific areas of their choice.

Barunga Beats grew out of a music program offered by Ben Andrews, the music teacher, within the Barunga School, a secondary school, located in Katherine, Northern Territory.

Following the initial success of the initiative, the Gurrumul Yunupingu Foundation became a partner with the school. This partnership introduced additional expertise and equipment which enabled the program to be extended, on some years, to accommodate young people of the community, outside of the school population.

Barunga School students are involved in musical activities throughout the school year. The additional Barunga Beats workshops, supported by the Foundation, lead up to the Barunga Festival.

What is the Barunga Festival?

The Barunga Festival is a significant cultural event held annually in the Barunga community, on Jawoyn country. It attracts people from across the Northern Territory, interstate and overseas. Significantly, the audience and the artistic line-up includes large numbers of Aboriginal people from surrounding and culturally connected communities within the Northern Territory and across state and territory borders.

How are the Barunga Beats Program and Barunga Festival connected?

The skills of the young musicians reinforced during the Barunga Beats workshops are showcased during the annual Barunga Blue Light Disco, which kicks off the Barunga Festival and is a huge draw card for locals and visitors.

And the Beat Goes On!

2023 was another great year for the Barunga Beats program, held at the Barunga School, and delivered by musician and founder of Ackeron St Records and Monotoca Music, Clarence Playford.

In the last few years, the students have expressed great interest in learning more about being a DJ. So, to begin the program, the Barunga School students were involved in choosing the tunes they would like to hear at the 2023 Barunga Blue Light Disco.

Following, Clarence ran two days of dedicated DJ skills workshops including sound engineering, mixing of songs, and stylistic taste with 15 students from Years 9 -12.

Like last year, it was great to see an increase in the number of female participants in the program.

The Barunga Beats program ran from the morning of Monday 4 June and ended on the evening of 9 June when the 2023 Barunga Blue Light Disco was held, where the DJ skills of those who participated in the program were demonstrated.

As a test run on the Thursday, at lunchtime, a disco was held so that many Barunga School students could have a go at being DJs. Any glitches were worked out, ready for the big event on Friday. On the night, four students were in charge of setting up and running the disco. The other students provided additional help and support.

Thanks to everyone involved, the disco was a huge success and there is now a new group of young people with DJ and event management skills.

A big thank you too to everyone who donated via our website which funded the Barunga Beats program this year.

The photos below show students participating in the 2023 Barunga Beats workshops. The video clip shows highlights of the Barunga Beats program week culminating in the Barunga Blue Light Disco.

Want to know about past Barunga Beats events?

In 2016, the Gurrumul Yunupingu Foundation delivered a highly successful Barunga Beats workshop program in partnership with the Barunga School.

The workshops were facilitated by ARIA nominated producer, James Mangohig, music teacher, Ben Andrews, and musician, Nathan Feijo. Up to 15 children became involved in workshops that covered song writing, beat-making, and the skills and discipline required for rehearsing and performance. Groups often came after school where they brought ideas they had already started, presenting them to the group, and developed them further. Time was also allocated to drumming, experimenting with the electronic gear and rehearsing singing.

The workshops focused around creating rhythms and songs with a hands-on approach.  Sometimes favourite songs from local Indigenous bands were used, as well as remix tools to add their own creative ideas. James reported that there was significant interest from young women in the program, an increase on 2015.

The big finale for Barunga Beats was at the Barunga Festival in June and was a huge success. The students ran the disco, MC’d it, played electronic drums, and worked with the samplers and other gear they’d been learning to use. Their confidence was boosted by having their music idols – members of B2M, Saltwater Band and Bininj Band supporting the students with several live sets. Performances at the festival were in front of not only their own community, but several thousand visitors.

One of the most exciting experiences for the students was to hear their own songs and music in full concert mode on the big PA system and with a great lighting rig. They now have more skills that will be used regularly at local events, and there is already planning for how the students can keep up the momentum with more workshops towards the next Festival, and other community celebrations.

In 2017, the students of Barunga School once again kicked off the music treats with a night of remixes of their own compositions at the Barunga Beats Disco on the Friday night. This performance was the result of multiple workshops created throughout the year.  The Barunga School students were once again mentored by James Mangohig. The student DJ’d the event using microphones, the vocoder machine, voice machines and samplers. Spotlights and coloured lights focused on hundreds of young people from all over the Territory while they hip-hopped, freestyle rapped and breakdanced the night away.

Despite the difficulties surrounding the COVID-19 years 2020 to 2022, the Barunga Festival was able to be staged on 15 August 2022.

Barunga has always provided a culturally safe and welcoming venue for the showcasing of the Gurrumul Yunupingu Foundation’s projects. Unfortunately, in 2022 there was only one project on offer from the Gurrumul Yunupingu Foundation, the heart-warming Barunga Beats. which this year, was entirely funded with public donations through the Foundation’s website.

Five workshops were held in the community during the two weeks before the Barunga Festival. There were 37 participants from Years 7 to 12. In the older age group, young women outnumbered young men 8 to 4. This was particularly encouraging, given in some previous years, girls and young women were sometimes reluctant to join up.

Skills and technical development covered in the workshops included: how to run a DJ set, selecting the playlist and audio routing.

The Barunga Beats program was delivered by musician and founder of Ackeron St Records and Monotoca Music, Clarence Playford.

Barunga Beats is arguably the most successful program the Foundation has supported and helped nurture to date.