ADAM BRIGGS IS a busy man. Between his musical projects as a solo artist and one half of rap group AB Original, and his TV and writing work, the Yorta Yorta man is one of the most in-demand creative minds in the country. But even by his standards, the past month has been a big one.
As he prepares the next AB Original album with his longtime collaborator Trials, as well as an “animation project” currently in the works, the 37-year-old has thrown his support behind the Yes vote in this weekend’s referendum on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament. Briggs has starred in educational videos directed by Nash Edgerton, he’s talked with AFL legend Nathan Buckley and NRL icon Roy Masters, and last Friday, he brought 8,000 people to his hometown of Shepparton for a gig that included Jimmy Barnes, Paul Kelly and rising rap star Barkaa. It was the biggest concert the town has ever seen.
“It was everything I envisioned,” he tells Esquire. “It was a collective vision; that was the ethos of the event and why it went off the way it did. The integrity and the identity of the event was maintained from the birth to the delivery.
“There was not one incident on the day,” he adds.
In a town that is historically a conservative stronghold, not to mention “racist as fuck”, according to Briggs, Shepparton is not the first location that springs to mind for progressive events such as this. And that was exactly the point.
“Shepparton is no country for old men,” explains Briggs. “What’s the point of preaching to the converted? I feel like the narrative of the No campaign is like, ‘Oh, it’s just more inner city lefties jerking off’.
“I did it to instil some camaraderie and morale and culture into the town where I’m from… If I was in my teens and something like this was happening in my town, I’d have lost my mind.”
The day featured performances from some of the nation’s biggest performers as well as emerging talent. Kicking off the day was local act Vince the Kid, then the likes of Jimmy Barnes and Baker Boy took the stage before Aussie hip-hop icons Hilltop Hoods headlined. There was even a surprise appearance by the PM himself.
“Together, this can be a moment of national unity, if we vote Yes,” said Anthony Albanese, as he addressed the crowd between performances. “We have eight days to make the greatest country on Earth, just that little bit greater.”
Getting the PM to show up for your concert is pretty impressive stuff, even more so when you consider it was actually Albanese who reached out to Briggs, which the artist says is a reflection of how the event was organised.
“I didn’t ask him to come,” he laughs. “I just asked my mates, but everybody’s welcome. That was the point of it. And when you present something like this that is positive, people want to interact. The public loves the controversy of the negative. That’s why it’s so easy to pedal a No because it’s a little bit scary, it’s contrarian, it’s a little bit cool. But they don’t really interact with it that well. So when you present things as a positive and have a tangible outcome like a show or concert, people want to get around it.”
Of course, not everything in the lead up to this referendum has been positive. The No campaign has been heavily criticised for apparent lies after Fair Australia’s official phone call scripts revealed callers had been telling voters Yes would “mean separate laws, separate economies and separate leaders” for Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. (This is not the case.) Meanwhile the Yes vote has come under fire for an apparent lack of clarity on what the referendum is about. Amid this sense of division and confusion, Briggs was encouraged to weigh in.
“Nobody asked me to do anything as usual,” he says. “I just see the things that I feel like are missing and I just try to put my spin on it. With the video that I put out with Nash [Edgerton], and the concert I put on, nobody asked me to do anything. Nobody told me to do this or do that, and certainly nobody fucking paid me.”
He explains that what he saw on the campaign trail was missing a sense of “humanity”.
“I feel like the conversations were all academic,” he explains. “You needed to have a base-level understanding of politics, a general knowledge of the ins and outs of Parliament and the Constitution to understand it. The No vote has had a field day because they don’t have to explain anything. It’s lazy.
“[The discussion] was too clouded in bureaucracy and politics and parliament. I wanted to get it out of the mud of Parliament and bring it back to the humanity.”
While the concert aimed to bring an element of humanity into the debate, the viral video Briggs created with director Nash Edgerton and comedy duo Jenna Owen and Victoria Zerbst, was more direct in its approach as it attempted to combat misinformation around the referendum. Specifically, Briggs says he wanted to counter the narrative that the Yes vote is not led by Indigenous communities.
“The most concerning thing is that people think this is Labor’s Voice,” he says. “They think this is not an initiative of Blackfellas, and I understand not all Blackfellas want it, but 80 per cent of us do. And that’s a pretty good majority. In any democracy, that’s a landslide. So this idea that Blackfellas don’t want it, is what’s concerning.”
For Briggs, the issue at hand is a simple one. It’s not a political or moral quandary that needs much interrogation. Instead, it’s a matter of principle.
“It’s not a question of detail,” he says. “Referendums aren’t detailed; detail is legislated after the fact. The question is, Do you value Blackfellas? Do you value Aboriginal people, Indigenous people, First Nations, whatever you want to say. That is the question on the table.”
When the population heads to the polls this Saturday, Briggs wants the words of Roy Masters to linger in the head of anyone undecided.
“Do the right thing,” he said. “We have an opportunity to do the right thing. Seize that opportunity.”
If you are unsure how to vote, visit https://voice.gov.au/ for a detailed breakdown of what the referendum means and how it works.