Her song Black Smoke blew us away only a few years back, and now with a gust of fresh music Emily Wurramara is back. With a brand new baby, a wedding impending and a record on the cards it’s a wonder she had time to pick up the phone to chat. But as soon as we were connected her warm, comforting and honest voice was so reassuring. This calm and confident voice may have arisen from the fact that on the date of our call, Emily was celebrating her birthday – I mentally gave her a big celebratory squeeze from many miles away.
Our chat came in the wake of her most recent single release Ngarrukwujenama, in the midst of a tremendous rise of young Indigenous artists engaging with their native languages and pushing their culture to the forefront of their art. Artists like Baker Boy have opened the doors for the next generation of Indigenous storytellers to rise up and take charge, starting a new dialogue and a fresh chapter.
Her language is incredibly important to her and when the conversation turned to her use of her native Anindilyakwa it appeared that this is a single calling on the importance of the environment and taking care of the land upon which we live. A sustainable outlook seems to be a real point of issue for Wurramara.
“This track is an anthem for me and a bit of a reminder to always take care of our mother [Earth] and protect her and preserve her, because at the end of the day she’s the one who is taking care of us,” she explains. “We have been treating her so terribly and one day she’s going to turn around and say ‘I’ve had enough of this’ and it’s going to be our own karma. We have to be looking after her, she’s our baby.”
This single isn’t the only time we will hear Wurramara paying homage to her heritage. Her deeply profound and special connection to her people is set to be interwoven throughout the threads of English in her forthcoming record, as the artist mused: “I feel like music is such a universal language that it doesn’t matter if you don’t understand the lyrics, as long as you’re feeling it in your heart…. That’s really important to share it with the whole audience and for it be subjected to one. Because then what we are doing is creating a divide; dividing our music into different genres and different flavours, where music is limitless. Looking at it from a cultural perspective, it’s important to have respect and get that across to the audience.”
Recorded in Melbourne, this album is one which Emily has been working up to for a while. “I’ve got my debut album coming out this year and I’m super stoked, this is just a dedication to home and my experiences and I really hope it connects with everyone. We all seek that sense of belonging and want to call a place home and in a way, we all need to be reminded of that. The songs are very mixed genres – I’ve used a lot of instrumentation and I’m really excited to show people my new style. A lot of artists dropped by, so we have Alice Skye and Benny Walker on the record and it was really powerful to get their input and to see that when we stand together as Indigenous songwriters, we can do anything.”
In talking about those things that make Emily grounded and connected, of course, conversation slipped over to that of her newborn baby. Having a new child whilst juggling and rapidly moving music career, I was eager to hear about the moments of joy in the balance. With a partner who is also in the music industry, it looks like this is one baby who is set to be part of a seriously exciting time in Australian music.
“Bubba is already on for the ride and I’m ready to show the world what it’s like to be a muso Mumma… it defeats a lot of stereotypes about women and about mums. For me, having a bub has changed my perspective on a lot of things; it’s made me stronger and made me wiser, to take a step back and look at it from the bigger picture. When you’re young, you’re dumb and you just want to have fun, regardless of what you’re getting up to. This gives me a sense of responsibility and something to live for and I’m very grateful for it.”
Wurramara seemed to just explode onto the scene in a huge rush, but these things don’t come from nowhere, and I was curious as to where this young girl from the Northern Territory Groote Eylandt first discovered music and how it brought her here. “My very first memory of picking up a microphone would have been karaoke. On my father’s side, everyone is Filipino, and they are of course very well known for their karaoke sessions. I just loved it, I loved swinging the microphone around and then when I was in grade three I picked up the violin. I loved the way you could make such notes and so many melodies and harmonies.
“Before I really started with instruments or anything to do with music, I started songwriting. Reading books and reading poetry, expanding my dialect and my language, so that I really am able to express more with more meaning and more detail.” From a young music enthusiast to one of the most exciting new generations of artists Australia has seen, Emily was contemplative as she pieced together the pieces of her own story.
“I met my manager when I was 14, and asked if she’d manage and mentor me along the way and she said ‘sure’. She was CEO at the Brisbane multicultural arts centre and she’d get me small gigs here and there and I made my first single… A lot of hard work, I sacrificed a lot – not able to go out, no birthdays and parties and boyfriends… From a musician’s perspecti, e there is a lot of pressure – you’re always writing and training and working hard to be better and are always learning. And so there’s a lot of pressure that comes along with being in the industry and makes you call on yourself to be stronger.”
As a woman with a huge amount of responsibility on her shoulders, it would seem that in this climate everyone is clamouring for the perspectives of young Indigenous people around the cultural and political divide which is alive and well here in Australia. But to my surprise, Emily was filled with optimism. “I come from the Northern Territory and it’s not as bad as what is happening here in Queensland and into New South Wales. It’s good to be aware of it and be sympathetic and honest about the situation. To be honest, it’s a lot of ignorance and if you look at it from a different perspective, i’m not a very political person except when it comes to the environment, when you’re in the music industry it’s politics no matter what.”
We left our chat with warmth, off to enjoy her birthday and a much earned break I’m sure. I walked away with a quiet confidence that I had just spoken with an artist who will most definitely make a sizeable dent in our music scene. One which speaks volumes for her own Indigenous people and for the group of young people rising alongside her.