Marlon x Rulla x BLKMPIRE Talk About New Single “Black Swan”

Young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’s Marlon x Rulla have collaborated with South Australia’s BLKMPIRE to create the empowering anthem Black Swan. With infectious chords and bolstering insurgent messages the new single encaptures the power and essence for all mobs to stand loud and proud. From their time playing AFL football progressing to now having supported Midnight Oil at WOMADelaide, the future is looking pretty bright for Marlon x Rulla.

Black Swan is your new single, can you tell us what that song is about?
MARLON: Black Swan came about with Rulla starting the initial creative process about three years ago. It originated when he saw Uncle Archie Roach perform live in Tasmania and got a sense of pride. He thought about the challenges that we as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people face on a day-to-day basis within our country around identity and feeling proud about our culture and where you’re from. Black Swan came about more recently when myself and Rulla connected at the Glenelg Football Club. Rulla asked me to put a few chords and verses down and we created Black Swan. The genesis of the song is really about being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander being proud of where you’re from and saying it “loud and proud, standing up tall like a Black Swan!”

RULLA: The song came off the back of the Briggs and Trials when they release the album Reclaim Australia and it was one of the first Black Fella hip-hop albums that was right in your face. It went crazy all over the nation. It gave a lot of encouragement to be able to voice how you feel in a hip-hop manner for Aboriginal musicians. initially it started with listen to that album and I wrote it to make all mob to feel proud of where they’re from as we are quite diverse. I felt like we needed an anthem that no matter where you’re from stand up and say where you’re from. A lot of times people say “Where are you from?” and sometimes you might feel a little bit of shame if you’re talking to a group of white fellas. It’s just a bit of reassurance to be proud. Stand up tall and be proud. 

I’m an Animal Keeper by trade so I’d watch the black swan every day and they are quite a unique bird. They’re not very big in stature but they have such a big presence. Every morning I’d be doing animal routines feeding devils or wombats or kangaroos but the swan was always having a chat and a yarn. It’s a very elegant bird so that’s how Black Swan came about. They’re a proud bird and staunch.

In the song Black Swan Marlon plays the guitar and that helps me to rap. I reference Larrakia and I sat on the song for three years now because I felt like it needed some representation from another Black Fella from one of the areas I mentioned. Fortunately, enough Marlon and I knew each other through sport and I showed him this song. I was missing a chord and I couldn’t find a fourth chord and he put that in. When you listen to it that fourth chord make you feel a certain way and it complements the song. He took the chorus and made it better with his powerful voice and gave it the melody that people can sing it back. Then BLKMPIRE came on board and from where it started to where it finished it’s a bit of a journey. 

It’s quite political. Is music a good way to get across to a larger audience these important messages for the Indigenous people?
MARLON: Definitely. I think just through the creative process it organically comes out writing about who we are and what we go through. Theres some really deep and important messages that come out through our music that helps the wider community; the non-Torres Strait Islander/Aboriginal community empathise with us a little bit to understand more the challenges that our people are facing and what we’ve had to overcome and endue over a long period of time.

RULLA: It’s a high level of importance no doubt. that kind of goes without saying. It’s a bit of a blessing that all of the work that First Nation’s artists have put in before us have really done a lot of the work for us to have opportunities to get lanes like what are opening up now. It will forever be important because we’re trying to give a voice from our perspective and paint a picture or give a voice to the ones that may not have one. We wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for artists like Archie Roach, Kev Carmody or Yothu Yindi. It’s important but we are also very blessed and grateful that there’s been work being put in before us to have representation in the industry.

It’s quite a sensitive topic and music brings people together so do you think it’s a more effective way to bring people together and be on the same page?
MARLON: Yeah, I think music is universal sound. It’s one thing that everyone has in common. Through music its softer and easier approach to be able to deliver a message with such meaningful intentions. When we are talking about our story I write in a metaphorical sense and Rulla is more up front so there’s a great balance when we connect and write together. The audience take what they can out of it but I feel as though with all the feedback we’ve had lately they are really understanding of the message we’re trying to convey. 

How do you approach your song writing? Do you write individually or together? 
MARLON: It’s a bit of both. The challenge of being part-time musicians is that you have other aspects of your life that you need to commit to them. Theres different kinds of models how we create. Sometimes we write together. Other times I’ll write a song, record it then send it on to Rulla and he will write his bit then we send it through to the band and let them work on their part. It’s really varies a lot and COVID brought that about as well when we were first creating together and we weren’t allowed to be in the same room. 

You worked with BLKMPIRE on this song. What was that like?
MARLON: Formally known as Jimblah the artist BLKMPIRE is essentially a first nation collective. He’ s creating a safe space for First Nation artists to be able to come together and collaborate. He’s a Larrakia man from Darwin as am I. Our families are quite close so it was great to connect and work with him. He creates a space where it’s just easy and fluid to be able to express yourself to create in a comfortable area.

RULLA: It was a bit of a buzz for me. Coming from a hip-hop genre in terms of rapping I’ve admired BLKMPIRE for years. I listen to his music. I ran into him when I first moved here and I told him about Black Swan. I’ve been telling people for years about Black Swan! I’ve listened and admired BLKMPIRE’s music for a long time and to work with him and see what he does; he’s a genius.

The song has finally been released so how does it feel now that it’s out?
RULLA: It’s a relief. It feels like it’s been such a journey but it’s a relief but quite joyful too. I look forward to sitting down with Marlon and the people that have been involved ad just enjoy the moment.

You have other interests in your life like AFL football and The Native Co business so has music always been a part of your life and something that you’ve wanted to do?
MARLON: Because I’ve been so heavily involved in football for best part of 13 or 14 years, I mean I moved away from Darwin when I was about 16 or 17 and went straight into an AFL club so music was always in the background. My father was a student of music and everything he learnt at Uni he taught me. I’ve been playing music as long as I’ve been playing football but it took a back seat because I was progressing well with footy. It’s always been there and always been a huge passion of mine. It was just about finding the right time to be able invest more time into it. Covid was such a weird by product of the world we were living in at that time and I had a heap of time to just focus on music as I wasn’t working full time and I had the time to spare. 

How has the transition from sport to music been? Is there a lot of similarities between the industries or completely different?
MARLON: Completely different but being in a professional environment like AFL clubs and footy clubs is that it taught us to be ultra-professional in terms of our preparation so there’s a few things that are transferable into music. We approach it like we are preparing for a football season or a football game. We make sure we are super prepared and professional in what we do.

Marlon you seem to be a busy man with music as well as being nominated for national Young Grower of the year as part of the AUSVeg awards for your business The Native Co. How did you find yourself starting a business of growing native indigenous produce? 
MARLON: That’s an interesting one. I was working closely with my cousin Daniel Motlop from Something Wild which is a native farm and gaming business. He started the business and I become a partner investing a lot of time to make that successful. Having a background in foraging and hunting from back home in Darwin, it was a natural fit to be able to grow our own native plants and inject them into main stream markets and everyday households. It was something that was always close to my heart in a cultural sense to be able to work with and grow native foods. So, to be able to grow that into a business is a plus!

Rulla you have had your own challenges in life with the shock diagnosis of cancer which is now under control. How has that impacted your life and has music been cathartic for you to get through that time of your life?
RULLA: It really was! I would be able to do what I’m doing without that happening. It was a blessing in disguise because just before I got diagnosed, I lost a close mate who was a musician and he helped me a lot with my music. I was just a bit of a bedroom jammer and those two things happening within 6 months of each other wore the start. I remember when he passed away, I just writing heaps but I wouldn’t show anyone. When I got diagnosed, I felt it was “go time” and at the same time it was very therapeutic. It helped me through that time to write songs and just to jot down my thoughts and what was going on in life. Once I finished and came out the other end, I made a deal with myself to go for it. You should always follow your passion and heart then you can never go wrong. It’s been an absolute journey and it’s going really fast but at the same time we’ve put in a lot of work. One thing I can say is that Marlon and I have a really good work ethic and that helps in an industry like this.

What was it like to open for Midnight Oil at WOMADelaide? 
MARLON: It was amazing! We’re still pinching ourselves at little bit because we understand that it’s not every day you get an opportunity like that to perform and open up for Midnight Oil. Particularly for myself and Rulla we’ve landed opening for Midnight Oil at WOMADelaide then playing Bass in the Grass a few weeks ago in front of 14,000 people those and getting kind of opportunities when we haven’t released much music yet we understand we’re really lucky and fortunate.  The experience was unbelievable to just be on a big stage and share it with such great artists. We loved it!

You’re also performing at the Port/Fremantle game for the Sir Doug Nicholls round game. How great is it for you to have your football and music come together? 
MARLON: It’s pretty special. To be able to play a role in Sir Doug Nicholls round and showcase another aspect of myself in another light that I have been working so hard on is super special. My cousin Steven played in the game and I played in the half time. My cousin Daniel was there also and the Port Adelaide footy club has been a big part in the life of the Motlop family. 

What’s in the future for Marlon x Rulla? 
MARLON: We’ll keep working hard to create meaningful music that portrays the essence of who we are in the best light and conveys the messages were trying to get across to our audience. The way we create is based on education and understanding. We’re reaching for the moon at the minute and we’ve been very fortunate and landed some great opportunities. We’re an emerging group over the last 5 months setting our sights high and get our music out to the world and share that with people.

RULLA: We’ve got a heap of songs but obviously we’ve put a lot of energy into Black Swan which has been amazing. We will soon be putting a lot more time into the other tracks and we have a 6-piece band that has a cool dynamic sound. we are really keen to get in to the studio to record. We definitely got more music coming. For me there’s no expectation or anything. Staying connected to the music and if you’re genuine and authentic in your art in a music format that will always ring true. As cliched as it sounds, I just want to be happy and smiling. If people are able to hear our art and touches or helps one person what more can you ask for? 

Interview by Anastasia Lambis

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