Emily Wurramara is musically archiving her indigenous language for the next generation
The lyrics from Emily Wurramara’s single Black Smoke transport you to another place. At just twenty years old, Emily has mastered the art of taking her listeners on a journey filled with imagery that evoke feelings of nostalgia and a sense of belonging.
“Music is the sound of the trees,” she tells Music Love. “[Music is the] sound of footsteps walking.” Emily was born in Groote Eylandt, which is the third largest island in Australia. It is up in the Gulf of Carpentaria, 600 or so kilometres from Darwin, near East Arnhem Land. “Life on the Eylandt was beautiful. I remember fishing and island hopping with my grandparents, a lot of family get-togethers, and beach parties.”
It there that Emily was born into and immersed in the very ancient culture of her Anindilyakwa people. In 2014, she told the National Indigenous Times, “When I was younger we used to go to cultural events like funerals and ceremonies and stuff. I used to love sitting down and listening to the old men singing. I noticed when I went back when I was seven or eight for a funeral the women didn’t sing. Back in the old days it was the woman who led the ceremony and sang the ceremony song. That was through my culture. I wanted to change that. I started writing and playing and trying to pick up as many instruments as I could.” (Which, indeed she has done. Emily now plays the ukulele, saxophone, piano, percussion like a boss, the violin, the guitar, and sings like an angel).
Emily sings songs like Black Smoke in English, but what really takes this already striking young woman to the stratosphere is that she sings in Anindilyakwa, her family’s Indigenous language.
“I love it! I love that I can represent my people in a positive way and [I love] utilising my language in my songs. I feel like [doing so is] archiving it for the next generation. A lot of the words I speak are very ancient and I wish to revive that. It makes me proud every time I sing.”
Indigenous languages in Australia are becoming extinct at a rapid rate of one every two weeks and there is a chance that Indigenous language could disappear by 2046, and maybe even by 2026. So the desire to revive the language is the marker of a commitment and respect for Emily’s people.
In a song sung in Anindilyakwa called Ngerraberraernama (Wake Up), Emily is living out this dream.
Emily had the opportunity write and record with Bernard Fanning for three days a few years ago as part of the Queensland Music Festival. “He was a very humble person, and I think that reflects in his songwriting, but the one thing that doesn't leave my mind was when he said how nice it was that I sang in language,” she tells Music Love.
Her time with Bernard was integral to her next steps as an artist. “When I was in the studio and it was just me and him. It was a very crucial part I think when It came to songwriting, we were able to really collaborate!”
Other Australians who inspire Emily are Nai Palm, lead singer of Grammy-nominated Melbourne-based future soul outfit Hatus Kaiyote, as well as singer-songwriter Lisa Mitchell and reggae artist Natalie Rize. Emily says, “They all have their own unique flavours and styles, and their personalities are so humble and down to earth.”
Emily’s music and soulful, organic approach has seen her nominated for Queensland Music Awards and she has adorned stages of festivals around Australia as well as in Sweden and France, which she found, “Amazing! There are no words to describe [it]. It was a very eye opening experience, being so young and having the opportunity to do that. It really sticks with me. I've met so many beautiful friends who I call family. Coming from a small community, and being able to stand out of the crowd and go and do these things, I hope will be a motivation for other women in my community to do the same.”
In everything, Emily always comes back to her people and her community. In March this year, Emily told the National Indigenous Times she wanted to take her music, traditional language and all, and make it mainstream. Straight to the ARIAs and MTV. As she should, and as, we predict, she will.
“Music is my escape, it’s my confidante. I can be who I want to be, express what I want and not care about who’s judging me, or listening, because at the end of the day, my music is an expression of myself. It’s in every aspect of me and that’s why I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.”
Emily loves to eat at the Hard Rock Café on the Gold Coast, and would one day like to try ballet. Her EP Black Smoke is available now via the iTunes store and for everything else, check out www.emilywurramarra.com.au