First Songs: Heralding First Nation voices

3 November 2022
Nardi Simpson and Troy Russell produce new music with Con students
First Songs, featuring new and reimagined music by the Sydney Conservatorium of Music's inaugural Indigenous-Artists-in-Residence Nardi Simpson and Troy Russell in collaboration with students, is a mix of hard-hitting social commentary and uplifting contemporary songs.

Students from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s Contemporary, Composition for Creative Industries and Classical performance degrees have collaborated with Indigenous-Artists-in-Residence Nardi Simpson and Troy Russell to produce a collection of works celebrating contemporary First Nation’s music. Presented by the Con’s New Music Ensemble, the concert also features new music by emerging Gamilaraay singer-songwriter and contemporary music student Amelia Thompson.

One of the provocative works on the program is ‘Lullabies for Blak Babies’ written by Nardi Simpson. It takes five common Aboriginal protest chants – Pay the Rent, Still Waitin, They Say Justice, Too Many Coppers & Wadda We Want. Simpson weaves them into lullabies to be sung by a ‘white’ classical singer to an imagined Indigenous child to achieve a stark juxtaposition of content and delivery.


These confronting sentences are part of the colonial inheritance of our blak babies. By placing these ideas within a baby’s body, parents pass on the baton of resistance to your young, just as our parents and grandparents have done for us.
Nardi Simpson

“However, I hope to keep listeners guessing as to who is performing the role of parenting our kids. These lullabies give our children uneasy rest on the bed of Black Deaths in Custody, Land Rights, Stolen Generations and Unceded Sovereignty.” 

Final-year student Amelia Thompson has stepped out of her usual context as a contemporary music singer to perform in front of a small orchestra drawn from the Con’s classical performance students.

Thompson offers her voice to two of Troy Russell’s songs in a generous intergenerational gesture and addresses questions of identity and connection in her own work. “My songs are about how it feels to be a younger Aboriginal person today.”, She comments on one of her songs, in the context of trying to figure out how her generation fits in and appears- ‘Still Tea’: “no matter how much milk you put into tea, it is still tea.”

The featured First Nations artists have collaborated with students from the Composition for Creative Industries degree who have assisted with orchestrating the music for the large ensemble. Project director Damien Ricketson states: “In creating a space for new First Nations music to flourish, we’ve also opened a space for different musical specialisations at the Con to interact and support one another. It is an honour to present this all First-Nations program on a site that has witnessed the making of music and culture for millennia before us.”

First Songs

7 pm, Thu 3rd November, Music Workshop, Sydney Conservatorium of Music


Troy Russell – The First Shot

Troy Russell – You Don’t Know

Troy Russell – Nucoorilma

Troy Russell – The Chant

Nardi Simpson – Lullabies for Blak Babies

Nardi Simpson – The Binary 

Amelia Thompson – Still Tea

Amelia Thompson – Take Me Home

Project director – Damien Ricketson

Conductor – George Ellis

Arrangements & orchestrations – Tim Doubinski & Harry O’Brien

Classical voice – Ines Paxton 

Contemporary voice – Amelia Thompson

Sally Quinn

Media Adviser

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