Emily Wurramara: "This is a new era and there's a revolution that's started."

Emily Wurramara

Emily Wurramara has had a great start to 2018. She has just signed a publishing deal with Mushroom, released a brand new song, and is enjoying her new look life with her two month old daughter. On all fronts, the Brisbane based songwriter feels elated and supported. Emily was made the offer from the publishing label, and reflects, "I was like, wow. That's a really big kind of deal for me 'cause I started out in songwriting...  [Now] I'm able to explore that side of the industry and song write for other artists and musicians."

As far as incorporating her musical career with her new baby, Emily says, "It's really cool because everyone is so understanding about it, and I have a lot of support and a team around me that work around her sleeping patterns..... You're just so out of it sometimes, like woah, and you can't sleep and then you have too much energy. Good times." She laughs down the phone from her home in Brisbane where her newborn has just gone down for a sleep.

Last time Music Love connected with the singer/songwriter from Groote Eylandt, Emily was archiving her indigenous language of Anindilyakwa. Eighteen months on, and her desire and her goal hasn't changed. A few weeks ago, Emily released a new single called  Ngarrukwujenama. Pronounced nar-deh-goo-jay-na-ma, the song means "I'm hurting." 

A lone Rhodes keyboard in all its glorious vibrato opens the song and within a few bars Emily's moving voice floats above it, singing in the ancient language that is still spoken in the Groote Eylandt archipelago, but is at risk, as are many of the remaining Indigenous languages across the country. The song expands into a live bass and drum groove with soulful electric guitar improvisation in the back. It's arresting stuff, and Emily and her producer David Bridie - who she has worked with since her first single was released in 2016 - finish the song, leaving a wake of anticipation for what's next. 

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Emily Wurramara Ngarraukwujenama

Ngarrukwujenama is the first track from her forthcoming album Milyakburra (Emily’s home community) which is due in the middle of this year. Emily says she will sing songs in both English and Anindilyakwa.

"Some songs on the album will be in language.... It's a lot of collaborative stuff on the album so I'm really excited to share that, and I think it's super important for me to keep archiving the language and putting it into the melody."

As she has done with Ngarrukwujenama and indeed previous releases like Ngerraberrakernama (Wake Up), Emily has balanced the richness of this old language with modern themes and contemporary context. The result is familiar, easy going and fresh. 

"So the dialect is spoken just between people from Groote and the coastal areas. It's really sad to say, but the ancient traditional Anindilyakwa language has been changed as many languages do, by outside influences..... so I'm wanting to do my bit to make sure we keep as much of it as we can.  It’s a really beautiful language, which tells a story of Groote and the island’s interactions with outsiders, for instance the legacy of the Macassan traders has left their mark on the dance and language.  The ancient language now is also mixed in with Pigeon in everyday use”.

Emily yearns for the next generation to join her. But do the kids want to learn? 

"The kids wanna speak more English than Anindilyakwa, because more and more they are travelling to the cities and feel the pressure to learn a different language. And it's so hard for them because English isn't their first language and so I'm hoping they'll hop on board and keep it alive with me, it’s easy to lose that language when you are not immersed in it every day."

The new single has already motivated some children in Emily's family to get more involved in music. 

"My little cousins - they live in Nhulunbuy - and they heard the song on triple j, on Home and Hosed, and they were absolutely in love and so inspired by it that they are starting to form a little band of their own. It's so special for me, I'm like, 'Yes, yes please do!'"

Emily wishes to empower women as much as she does kids, music is not often an area where women get involved, and it is mainly the boys and men in the community that form the bands.

"Where I come from, it's still is a male hierarchy system, and we have strict guidelines around marriage and cultural practice.  Between the tribes there's a system called the Moiety System and it's about who you can and can't marry.  This is a critical part of the culture when you live in such a tight knit community, but it is also important to see a different perspective from someone who comes from the community and is living outside, and do pretty much whatever they want."

It’s a hard balancing act, living in two worlds but one that Emily is determined to tackle, albeit with respect. "They are so used to living in that pattern... and I'm showing them this is a new era and there's a revolution that's started. You can still be cultural, you can still be respectful, and strong in your own sense and make decisions for yourself."

Emily's spirit, her musical gift, and the platform she has will undoubtedly continue to be the catalyst for change. 

Emily plays Sunset 20 North 25 February. Ngarrukwujenama is out now