Standing on the sails of Sydney Opera House, First Nations hip hop artist Ziggy Ramo has reconstructed the iconic Paul Kelly classic From Little Things Big Things Grow and turned it into a powerful truth-telling anthem.

Dropped on May 28, Ramo’s Little Things walks listeners through history, beginning from the 1493 Doctrine of Discovery to acknowledging the more than 470 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have died in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission.

The 27-year-old gained permission from Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody to work with the classic, which has strong roots in national modern identity, and reimagined a powerful retelling of the history of ‘so-called Australia’.

“It’s something that I’ve really believed in and wanted to share with people because I feel like it’s a piece of art that can help people and give people a bit of catalyst for wanting to learn more,” Ramo told NIT.

“It is sobering in an odd way … the art that I create is what I would have liked to see when I was a kid.”

The track is paired with a powerful video which was directed by Ramo himself and produced in collaboration with the Sydney Opera House’s Digital Programming Team.

The video sees Ramo sitting on the sails of the iconic building as he delivers his lyrics.

“Initially, I wasn’t thinking about so much of my individual reclamation, instead it was like a demonstration … The whole concept of what I was trying to share visually is that these are all symbols of colonisation, and genocide,” he said.

Ramo said the visual component weighs heavily on the need to reconnect to Country, to return the balance of people caring for Country and Country caring for people.

“All these symbols will just be reclaimed by Country because there always was and always will be Country. We are kind of out of whack, we are not connected to being caretakers anymore,” he said.

“For me, Little Things is this duality of demonstrating where we’re heading on this timeline, and also demonstrating how this timeline got set in motion.

“There is also hope in that sense that despite all of that, we still have people who are connected to Country and are caretakers who can come together and actually be a part of the reclamation and reconnection process.”

Ramo also noted he chose to use the landmark to engage those who don’t often engage in truth-telling.

“I knew it would be in a language that would not only appeal to Australia, but to those who have been apathetic — thinking that things like this don’t affect them in their day-to-day life,” he said.

“I wanted to talk to people who otherwise might not be engaged in this conversation.”

Ziggy Ramo on top of the Sydney Opera House for the Little Things video. Photo supplied.

In 2020 Ramo released Black Thoughts, an album that cemented the artist as a strong, powerful and self-determined storyteller.

“We are inherently storytellers. Creating has kept me connected to my identity in a lot of ways because my great-grandmother was stolen, we were dispossessed. We never had connection to Country, or our specific Aboriginality,” he said.

“My parents were adopted into the Yolngu kinship, so we grew up on Yolngu Country with access to kinship and knowledge … that is our family.

“That gave me a framework of understanding of what kinship looks like in real time even though it wasn’t my ancestral kinship.”

“What is inherently in my blood, regardless that we were dispossessed, was that innate and inherent ability to tell stories. I feel a really deep sense of connection when I’m able to share stories.”

Ramo has established a strong voice in the Australian music scene that has resonated beyond the industry, a journey that has proved Ramo’s patience and commitment to self-determination.

“Since I was 16, I knew what I wanted to do and how to do it. I wanted to remain self-determined and independent as an artist so I didn’t have to compromise authenticity and never have to compromise the kind of art I wanted to make,” he said.

“So, to have this moment … it’s just pretty special to see that I have remained self-determined.

“For me, I was so motivated to do this self-determined so when I stood at the top of the Opera House and did this song — I knew no institution could take credit for it.”

With Little Things rapidly gaining success and attention, Ramo is moving slowly into the rest of the year.

“I’ve been playing guitar more recently and as I was doing that a few songs started falling out … so I might put out a few more folk songs and then just go and sit around places with a guitar and talk to people,” he said.

“I think that’s what the rest of 2021 is going to hold for me.”

 By Rachael Knowles