Emily Wurramara's Music Tells Stories (and She's Coming to a Stage Near You this Summer!)

Digital design: Grace Jennings-Edquist

Digital design: Grace Jennings-Edquist

Brisbane-based Emily Wurramara sings songs in both English and Anindilyakwa, the traditional language of her first home on Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory. Wurramara, 21, is set to play on 3 February at Yalukut Weelam Ngargee, the free Indigenous arts and music festival that launches Melbourne's St Kilda Festival each year. (All this after preparing to release an album later this month!) By Grace Jennings-Edquist

How would you describe your music?
A bit of a folky, rooty cultural journey that my music takes you on. I’m kind of a storyteller.
 
You spent your younger years on Groote Eylandt off the coast of the Northern Territory, one of the most remote areas of the country. What was that like?
I think being on an island was really grounding, especially for a young woman being surrounded by my family and my grandmother and learning traditional cultural ways before moving to the city and being exposed to Western society. It was really kicked back. I loved going fishing, going camping, and being with my cousins on the beach.
 
Tell us about the story behind your song "Hey Love".
"Hey Love" is based on a true story that happened to my mum when she was in boarding school. It was her third day after orientation and she went into the bathroom and she came out of the toilet and there were six non-Indigenous girls and they found out that my grandmother was a full-blooded Aboriginal woman so they cornered my mum... and two sister girls walked in and saw what was happening and [the non-Indigenous girls] wouldn't let them leave, so they ended up having to fight their way out.
 
Have you experienced any discrimination as an Indigenous performer in the Australian music scene? 
I have. Just being a female Indigenous woman; where we come from, we still have a very male hierarchical system so me singing is still very unusual for Grooties, as we say. And so it's kind of breaking down those barriers and stereotypes.
 
One of your missions is inspiring other members of your community to find their voice. What kind of feedback do you get from other young Indigenous women wanting to break into music?
I went back to the island just recently on my 21st birthday — I wanted to go back and do some workshops and programs with the young women up there — and found out all the girls are starting a little band. They were like, ‘it's inspiring to see you’, and that makes me feel deadly.
 
Yalukut Weelam Ngargee is a free community event on 3 February in Melbourne. The event will include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music and arts. Read more aboutEmily here, or find her on Soundcloud here. This interview has been edited for length.