I realise that this website does have a primarily US-based readership, so I’ll do my best to properly contextualise the impact of Ziggy Ramo’s cover of Paul Kelly’s ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’.
Paul Kelly is often described as the ‘Australian Bob Dylan’, writing songs that capture iconic and unique aspects of Australian life. On his 1991 album Comedy, Kelly along with indigenous artist Kevin Carmody produced one of the most iconic Australian protest songs – ‘From Little Things, Big Things Grow’.
The track tells the story of Vincent Lingiari, a Gurindji man who stood up to one of the biggest land holders in Australia to advocate for Indigenous land rights. His passion and peaceful protest grew support for Indigenous land rights, which eventually lead to the creation of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act of 1976, allowing Indigenous Australians to claim rights to land taken from them by European Settlers.
‘From Little Things, Big Things Grow’ became part of the Australian musical canon, for its Australian folk sound and acknowledgment of the traditional peoples of the land, sentiment that has grown in the years since, and has been further amplified by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Australian hip-hop artist and social activist Ziggy Ramo’s version completely changes the meaning of the song, while still maintaining the sing-along-able nature of the original.
Usually, a cover of a song changes up the beat, melody or instrumentation of the track, while still maintaining the same lyrics. Ramo has completely changed the lyrics in his version, providing a perspective of even further perspective of the struggle of Indigenous Australians.
Ramo tells of the land now known as Australia being named Terra Nullius (A Latin term for ‘nobody’s land’) by the European settlers, despite the thousands of years of Indigenous people living on the land, after the ‘Doctorine of Discovery‘ for taking foreign lands was drawn up in Europe. He also highlights how Indigenous men and women served in the Australian army in World War II, alongside white Australians, only to be treated as second class citizens as soon as the war ended.
The most compelling thing about the track is the level of anger present with the lyrics, but his voice maintains a steady and calm rhythm. Ramo knows there is sometimes more power in an argument presented calmly and methodically than through rage and raised voices.
This track made some waves when first played on Australian radio station Triple J, I suspect will continue to make waves into the near future, as the voices of Indigenous Australians become louder and clearer every day.