Conference Speaker

Russell Smith


Russell Smith has played his music on many stages, from big cities to the deep quiet of the Australian bush. A master of the yidaki (didgeridoo), the Pitjantjatjara musician has performed with some of the biggest stars in the Australian music firmament, including Paul Kelly, Archie Roach, Tommy Emmanuel and Amy Shark. He has worked alongside the legendary Sixto Rodriguez, and with international composers Peter Sculthorpe and Rupert Gregson-Williams. With his First Nations indie-rock band, Brolga, he has brought together rock, blues, funk and Indigenous rhythms. With his classical fusion group, Manta, he has paired the yidaki with guitar and cello to haunting effect.

On November 11, Russell Smith will be inducted into the South Australian Music Hall of Fame.

He will be just the fourth First Nations artist to be inducted, following the late Archie Roach, AC, the late Ruby Hunter, and the band No Fixed Address. Smith had an especially close bond with Roach, travelling with him frequently before the great song-man’s death.

At the Umeewarra Downtown Festival, as well as being inducted into the Hall of Fame, Smith will also be launching a new self-titled album, Brolga. The Brolga band includes Dave Mudie and Bones Sloane, Phil Ceberano, Matty Vehl and Lee ‘Sonnyboy’ Morgan. One of the songs ‘Wishing tree’ is about an Aboriginal grandmother looking for her granddaughter who is finding her Aboriginality. Another song ‘Heart of the Matter’ is about Caring for Country.

Smith was a founding member of The Brolga Boys (as it was then called) in 1996 and the Manta Trio, with Ashley Naylor and Theo Chen, in 2009. Manta is the Pitjantjatjara word for Country. His career highlights include touring with Archie Roach over many years in Australia, France, England, Scotland and Ireland; performing with Rodriguez during his ‘Return of the Sugar Man’ Australian tour in 2017; performing with Tommy Emmanuel at the Lorient Festival, France; performing with The Brolga Boys alongside Yothu Yindi, Warumpi Band, Coloured Stone and Jimmy Little at the 2006 Dreaming Festival; performing with Peter Sculthorpe at the Australian consulate in Paris; and performing at the AFL Grand Final with artists including Roach and Shane Howard.

He has played the yidaki for Nelson Mandela, Xanana Gusmao and Muhammed Ali.

Smith said it was very special that Paul Kelly will be inducted into the South Australia Music Hall of Fame in Adelaide in the days prior to his own induction. Smith performed with Kelly for five months recently as part of Kelly’s Red Hot Summer tour.


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