PERFORMANCE: Witiyana Marika and Yirrnga Yunpingu with Gavin Campbell in the background on stage as Yothu Yindi and the Treaty Project in Sydney's Enmore Theatre.
PERFORMANCE: Witiyana Marika and Yirrnga Yunpingu with Gavin Campbell in the background on stage as Yothu Yindi and the Treaty Project in Sydney's Enmore Theatre. Andy Maclean

TREATY: The unknown story of a global dance hit

DJ Gavin Campbell has revealed the unorthodox methods he used to remix Treaty, Yothu Yindi's biggest hit song, and a song that is politically and socially powerful in Australia.

A 'balanda' (non-Aboriginal) man, Campbell is coming to Lismore with Yothu Yindi and The Treaty Project to present a 90-minute show of remixed songs by Yothu Yindi, old hits and even new ones.

But the main connection between Campbell and Yothu Yindi was the remix of Treaty Campbell did with as Filthy Lucre (Campbell plus Robert Goodge and Paul Main) 25 years ago, a version that was embraced by youngerr audiences and has allowed the song to reach dance floors across the world.

What few people knew until now is how he got to remix the song.

Both Yothu Yindi and Gavin Campbell were signed by Mushroom Records in the early 1990s, so Campbell was well aware of the band's music.

"I'll start off with a confession: we didn't realise, until we had finished working on this track, how sensitive this was, we didn't even talk to the band about it," he said.

"I was a little bit unaware of the implications, I knew we were messing with their song, but we were so excited so we just did it because we were convinced that this was an amazing idea."

 

BEATS: DJ Gavin Campbell..
BEATS: DJ Gavin Campbell.. Kevin Bergin

Campbell said the trio worked on the song secretly.

"We worked on it for a couple of months, because Mushroom (records) would not give us permission to do this," he said.

"They had spent a lot of money on Yothu Yindi on two albums, that costs a lot of money, so they did not want us to tell them what to do.

"I actually snuck the tapes out of the building, because they would not give us permission to do it, not at a cultural level but at a business level."

The DJ said some people inside the recording label knew they had taken to tapes.

"We just grabbed them, and we go through it because people trusted me, people knew that I was an OK person."

"They said 'just go and make sure you do something good' and we came back a few months later with the finished version of Treaty. It was only once it was done that I thought 'what have we done! We could be murdered for this. We messed wit their traditional music.' so we didn't play it to anyone."

When Yothu Yindi listened to the remix, the band loved it, and the rest is history.

The song

  • Songwriters were Paul Kelly, M. Yunupingu, Stuart Kellaway, Cal Williams, G. Yunupingu, Milkayngu Mununggurr, Banula Marika and Peter Garrett.
  • Producer: Mark Moffatt
  • 1991: Released as the first song by a predominately-Aboriginal band to chart in Australia and the first song in any Aboriginal Australian language (Yolngu-Matha) to gain extensive international recognition, peaking at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play singles charts.
  • 2001: Selected by APRA as one of the Top 30 Australian songs of all time.
  • 2009: Added to the National Film and Sound Archive's Sounds of Australia registry.
  • 2018: Placed 10th in Triple M's 100 Best Australian Song's countdown by popular vote.


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