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Live Review: Emily Wurramara's voice is serene, subversive, and necessary on 'Ngarrukwujenama'

7 February 2018 | 4:29 pm | Kyle Fensom

On the first single from her debut album, Emily Wurramara's voice, sung in Anindilyakwa, is quietly subversive and important for Australia in 2018.

Groote Eylandt singer-songwriter EMILY WURRAMARA unveiled the first taste of her debut album, Milyakburra, in the form of lead single, ‘Ngarrukwujenama’, a gorgeous cut of jazz-tinged sophisti-pop.

With her angelic voice resting atop a softly-burning bed of warm, vintage electric pianos and gentle guitar embellishments, the deep-rooted politics of the track almost gets lost amidst its elegance. But working with producer David Bridie, Wurramara moves away from the acoustic-folk stylings of her 2016 debut EP by adopting the deeply political framework of jazz to express the pain felt over issues of mining and environmental degradation around her homeland. The track's title translates to “I’m hurting,” and is sung entirely in Wurramara’s native language, Anindilyakwa. It serves as a personal act of resistance against the destruction of cultural songlines and her peoples’ sacred connection to the seabed.

Language is a fundamental pillar of cultural preservation and maintaining a sense of historicity, and Wurramara understands it is part of her purpose to help archive her mother-tongue for future generations through music. For those who have never engaged with Anindilyakwa, however, Wurramara’s vocals work much like D’Angelo’s does on Black Messiah, where the focus isn’t so much on the listener’s ability to understand the content per se of her lyrics, but rather the impressionism and emotiveness her voice conveys. You can hear the simultaneous existence of personal hurt and the possibility for redemption swirling around within the same syllables when she elongates the track’s title, and again when the chords in the chorus shift from major to minor and back. More than anything, it offers a voyeuristic insight into the most personal, intimate corners of Wurramara's soul.

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In this country, the right for a particular voice to exist, to take up space and to be heard and addressed to certain audiences is always a site of power contestation. On 'Ngarrukwujenama', Emily Wurramara confidently owns her culture, and her voice, serene and sung in Anindilyakwa, is quietly subversive and necessarily important for an Australia in 2018.

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