Indigenous dance sensation DJUKI MALA, will shake The Spiegeltent Geelong with their much loved, highly awarded, 5-star review must-see show that has sold out venues around the world since 2007. We chat to the lead dancer Baykali Ganambarr ahead of the show.
Hey there Baykali, you’re the lead dancer of Djuki Mala: a super successful dance sensation – could you tell us a little bit about how you guys got together?
Well, Djuki Mala was previously called Djuki Dancers and it started all the way back in 2007. The lead dancer at the time, Lionel, his sister was very ill and needed to be taken cared of in the community. So she got taken to Darwin Royal Hospital, and the nurse that was taking care of her was a Greek lady. She was taking care of Lionel’s sister until she passed on. And Lionel wanted to show his appreciation to the Greek lady. So he decided to make a dance chorey to Zorba the Greek. And three weeks later, there was a Friday night disco at the basketball court in one of the communities. So the old Djuki Dancers decided to dance at the basketball court and Lionel’s mother, Margaret, decided to film the whole dance. Then, Big Frank, Lionel’s father, uploaded it on Youtube. A few weeks later it just went viral – like, millions of views. That’s where everything began. And Big Frank came and told the boys, ‘Boys, that video will take us everywhere.’ And now, here we are, thirteen years later!
Your dance style has been described as a mix of storytelling and combining traditional dances with contemporary Yolngu culture. Could you educate us a little about Yolngu culture and describe Djuki Mala’s style in your own words?
We made this show back in 2014 with a whole lot of love and a whole lot of joy. And Djuki Mala has always had this humour. We’re all about being funny, being comedians. In this whole dance, we definitely show cultural dances, and then we do contemporary. We add a bit of Yolngu flavour into modern dance. We mix everything up and that’s why people are interested in coming to our show.
A few words to describe our show would definitely be comedy, humerous, energetic – so energetic – and just fun. It brings joy to people’s hearts. It’s all about showing our culture and telling our story about where we’re from.
Yolngu People – we’re from the final piece of Arnhem Land. So there’s a lot of islands up in the Arnhem lands. The whole Arnhem land is covered with the Yolngu Tribe, and that’s where Djuki Mala comes from. It’s beautiful up there. I just can’t wait to finish this tour and go back! It’s pretty beautiful up there.
Your crew is hugely successful – you’ve won so many awards – the latest being the 2018 UNISA AWARD for Excellence in Aboriginal Creative Arts. What do you hope to do with your platform? What do you hope to communicate through your dances?
It’s been amazing. I’m in the new generation of Djuki Mala and it’s been seven years now. It’s been an amazing ride. We’ve got to travel all over the world. We performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which is the biggest Fringe Festival in the world. The message is basically about our culture: where we’re from and who we are. Like, when we were in Edinburgh, we had people come up to us after the show and saying things like ‘Oh, we didn’t know there were Indigenous people in Australia.’ So it was good for us to educate people and share our story through what we love: dancing. We had people so shocked!
You’ll be performing at the Spiegeltent Geelong on June 14 and 15. What are fans in store for?
It’s guaranteed – guaranteed – that you’ll leave the show with a big smile, and be happy. The crowd gives us more energy. We always say at the beginning of our show, ‘The more noise you make, the better we feel. The better we feel, the better we dance. The better we dance, the better time we all have!’ This is the last show that we’re going to be touring this year, because we’ll be starting on our new show after this. So this is your last chance to get tickets and have this wonderful joy ride and journey back in time. This show is definitely a time trip. You’ll get to see dances from 65,000 years ago today.
You’re also going to appearing in the upcoming feature film ‘The Nightingale’ – what will be your role in the film?
I’m going to be a tracker in the movie. I’m the male lead actor in the film. It’s an amazing experience because I haven’t been to film school whatsoever. So the feature film is a huge step. Especially acting alongside with Sam Claflin who’s in Me Before You and Game of Thrones. Also Aisling Franciosi – she’s from Ireland and she’s done a couple of scenes in The Hunger Games. It’s really amazing to be filming with these amazing people. It’s nerve-racking for me but at the same time a privilege to be working with these people. And not just working, but having these people supporting me in my first lead role in a feature film. I just can’t wait for the movie to come out! It comes out on 29 August.
You’ve also appeared in Mojo Juju’s hit ‘Native Tongue’ – what did this mean for you?
Man, it was our first time working with Mojo. And the lyrics in that song are pretty intense. We felt the spirit when we were filming the whole clip. You can just feel that vibe. We just felt the amazing spiritual vibes. And it was just so great working with Mojo. It was our first time, and hopefully more to come. We actually performed with her in Adelaide. And the audience, man, they went OFF!
The story of your success despite coming from Australia’s First Nation’s community in a world that doesn’t always acknowledge that, is incredible. What is your message for Indigenous Australian aspiring artists?
The ones that are looking up to us: just keep thriving, just keep following your dreams and goals. We’d love to see more upcoming dancers, from the new generation. Whether it’s dancing or acting.
After chatting with Baykali, the show sounds like we are in for a LIT night loaded with energy, fun, and just great, genuine and CRAZY vibes. Don’t miss out! Grab your tickets online via www.spiegeltentgeelong.com
Written by Naseem Radmehr
Photo by Cam Campbell