Special Interview: Yirrmal

THEAUSSIEWORD.COM catches up with Australian artist Yirrmal.

  • How and where did it all begin for you?

I used to sit with my father at ceremony and listen to the stories being sung, listening to that manikay.

My father Witiyana Marika is co-founder of Yothu Yindi and was travelling all around the world when I was growing up, so I grew up listening to a lot of Yothu Yindi songs. Dr M Yunupingu, my grandfather, is my biggest influence, he helped carve out this road that we walk on today. I also grew up listening to Dr G (Gurrumul), Archie Roach and the Saltwater Band. I started to think about music as a way to express myself so I could tell my own stories.

  • What drew your interest to the music industry?

I have seen the people who inspire me and what they have done for their own people. I have seen how they have made this road for us to walk on, and have given us these opportunities in our lifetimes to keep our culture strong and keep our people represented in the music industry. Dr M Yunupingu told me to take up the baton and run as far as I can with it, and show the world that we are still here, still bringing people together to make a better future.

  • What motivates or influences you in your quest to make great music?

Honesty and truth, and trying to make people’s lives a little bit more enjoyable, even if it is only for as long as the song goes, it’s something.  A little bit of happiness goes a long way.

  • What are some of your biggest goals you hope to accomplish?

Well, number one goal for me is to be able to balance my family, community, work and ceremonial responsibilities with my music. Every day I wake up and think about how I’m going to make it work. Some days it’s easy and some days it’s a little bit harder than others.

  • What can we expect from you in the coming months?

Starting on November 11, there is a Season Two of Zac Efron’s ‘Down to Earth’. Dhaliwuy Bay which I released in May this year is featured in the series, as well as Marryuna, so I’m pretty happy about that!  And then on December 29, I am playing at Woodford with my new band at the Amphigrande at 9.20pm.  This will be the first time to play all my new songs so I’m very excited!  There are some amazing musicians in this band including award winning country musician guitarist and songwriter Lawrie Minson, Ben Hakaltiz on the kit from Yothu Yindi, Matt Hellak on guitar, Chris Pearson on bass, Andrew Schravemade on keys, Shelley Minson on backing vocals, and Ross Middleton on sax.  Dami Im will be making a special guest appearance with us also.

  • Any plans to tour?

I’m pretty busy with ceremony responsibilities right now, and my father has been in Adelaide hospital very sick and just had open heart surgery – so it’s hard to fit touring in right now, but later on next year

  • Tell us a bit about your latest release and how would you best describe your music?

I want people to enjoy my music, to forget about their troubles and to live in the moment, and just ‘be’ present.Music has healing properties for your mind and soul.

Shining Light represents my homeland called Yalangbara, also known as Gulurunga.

The English name is Port Bradshaw; it’s a very special and sacred place for my people, the Rirratjinguclan. It is one of the most significant cultural areas for Yolngu because of its’ role in the creation story of theRirratjingu clan, based on our Djang’kawu ancestors. The shining light above in the sky above guides us to back to our traditional lands of Yalangbara, to our culture and our lore.

Some people ask me why this music doesn’t have yidaki or bilma. I tell people I am the culture, I bring the culture.  Later on I might make some music with our traditional instruments, but when the time is right for me. I am on my own journey, and taking my own path and I’m excited to be here in this life, making music.

  • Give us an insight into your creative process

I like to work on pieces of music myself and then get inspired and share it with others and thrive off their positive energy and vibes. I don’t have a set formula to create, it comes from experiencing life, its ups and its downs and getting inspired by other people from all walks of life.

  • What gets you writing songs?

I get inspired by stories, or my own experiences, or even just how I am feeling.  I wrote a song called Promised Land featuring Dami Im and I released it in August. Promised Land is about (metaphorically) when a person passes away, he or she is in a canoe or a boat, and sails out into the ocean, getting swirled around by strong currents and winds, almost tipping the canoe over.  It gets dark at night, and clouds cover the moon and the person – or the soul, is calling out to family, trying to get back to shore.  Then the clouds part and the moon shines bright and the person can see the Milky Way in the sky and the pathway shines over the water to the other side, to the Promised Land where the ancestors are waiting. After I released Promised Land, I got a message from a man who had just lost his wife and he said how this song spoke to his heart, and helped him to grieve for his wife.  Wow, to be able to make a difference like this even just to one person’s life, it is such a privilege. 

  • Is there a hidden meaning in any of your music?

No, my music is straight down the line. How you see it and how you interpret it is your own story.

  • Success, what is the secret to it?

I don’t know for other people. But for me, it’s being able to balance my music with my ceremonial, family, work, and community responsibilities.  I want to be there for my kids growing up and I want to have a good relationship with them.  When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother and grandfather out at Dhaliwuy Bay because my father was touring a lot with Yothu Yindi. And I always remember that I wish he was there with me more often. So this is the promise I make to my kids now. If I can get that right, then I’ll be doing okay!  I’m still working on it – it’s a challenge!

  • What has been your biggest career highlight so far?

Recording some great music with Andrew Farriss (INXS) down at his Piedmont Studio at his farm, and meeting some great musicians like Lawrie Minson there. Writing tracks with my cousin Baker Boy and recording Marryuna, Ride and Somewhere Deep. And singing with Midnight Oil at Hanging Rock and Sydney a few years ago now, working on songs with Uncle Archie Roach bless him, and Neil Murray and Shane Howard, and performing at the Commonwealth Games.

  • Which stars of the music industry to you find inspiring?

There are so many inspiring people and bands! William Crighton, Bob Marley, Dr M Yunupingu, Genesis Owusu, Etta James, Temper Trap, OneRepublic, Amy Shark, John Mayer, Gang of Youths, Mary J Blige, Alicia Keys, Dr G Yunupingu, Andrew Farriss, Jimblah, Queen, Birdz, Fred Leone, Bumpy, Lawrie Minson, Imagine Dragons, Tash Sultana, Warumpi Band, Baker Boy, Passenger, Dan Sultan, Foo Fighters, The Black Sorrows, Emma Donovan, Jerome Farrah, Budjerah, Juran, Miiesha, Uncle Archie Roach, Prince, Saltwater Band, Neil Murray, 2Pac, Dean Lewis, Kings of Leon, Jimmy Barnes, King Stingray, Elton John, Jay Z and Beyonce, Yothu Yindi, Thelma Plum, Emily Wurramara, Dami Im, Shane Howard, Coldplay, Muddy Waters, Jess Mauboy, DOBBY, Briggs, Stan Walker, Busby Marou, Shellie Morris, Jordie Lane, East Journey.

  • Are there any new projects in the pipeline?

I have a couple of things hopefully coming up early in the new year, but waiting for confirmation first, so stay tuned!

  • The music industry is constantly changing, where do you see yourself in a few years?

Who knows? I don’t take anything for granted. As long as I continue to have the freedom to express myself through my music, and keep creating music I’ll be happy.

  • What is your favourite and least favourite part about this line of work and why?

I love creating and sharing ideas with other singers and artists; making time work for me is a bit of a challenge!

  • Name a few of your favourite Australian Artists.

Yothu Yindi, Emily Wurramara, King Stingray, Thelma Plum, Emma Donovan, Birdz and Fred Leone, Andrew Farriss, Baker Boy, Dan Sultan, Genesis Owusu, William Crighton, John Farnham there’s too many to name!

  • The shape of the music industry has changed significantly over the years, including the use of social media. How do you feel about the industry as a whole and what does it mean to you in getting your records out in the public eye?

Music is changing and it’s definitely harder to get music out competing on digital platforms, but there’s also opportunity to share with the music community.  My facebook page ‘Yirrmal’ was hacked 2 weeks before I released Shining Light, so that made it hard to get my music out there – I’m still trying to get my page back!

  • How will you continue appealing to the international market?

My formula hasn’t changed, I still write, create and sing from the heart and from my own experiences.  Dhaliwuy Bay was featured on the Netflix show Zac Efron’s Down to Earth (Downunder) Series 2 in a couple of episodes, so that always helps in showcasing my music overseas

  • Do you collaborate with others?

I worked with Jordie Lane on ‘For Everyone’, and co-wrote and featured on 3 tracks with my cousin Baker Boy ‘Marryuna’, ‘Ride’ and ‘Somewhere Deep’.  ‘Promised Land’ was released earlier this year and featured Dami Im. I’ve also co-written tunes with Uncle Archie Roach, Stuey Kellaway, Neil Murray and Shane Howard. Some tracks I’ve co-written with Neil Murray, and Shane Howard will be out next year.

  • Who is on your wish-list?

So many people!  Like Emma Donovan, Genesis Owusu, Temper Trap and I’d like to be able to do some writing with Andrew Farriss too

  • What advice to you give for other artists wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t look at the reasons why you can’t do something, look at the reasons why you should do something.  Because people will always tell you why you can’t do something. Surround yourself with great people, and positive people too. People who will help lift you up and empower you to reach your goals. Build a great team around you who believe in your own vision and what you want for yourself. Treat everyone how you want to be treated, with respect, and help others where you can. What you give out, you always get back.

  • A message for your fans.

Thank you for sticking with me! It might seem to you guys that I have been away for a while, but I was busy working on my new songs with Andrew Farriss that I recorded last year, and making some music videos for the tracks. I can’t wait to get back out there, and I hope to see you at Woodford Folk Festival on 29 December – at the Amphigrande at 9:20pm!

  • How do you best interact and respond with your followers and fans?

I enjoy reading the messages that are sent to me, it really makes my day to know that people are enjoying my music, I have so much respect for my followers and fans!  I like to message back when I can, but it’s been hard with my facebook page being offline – but I’m hoping it will get restored soon!  In the meantime, please check out my youtube link where the new music video is for Shining Light www.youtube.com/@yirrmalofficial my Instagram page www.instagram.com/yirrmalofficial Tiktok www.tiktok.com/@yirrmal and my website www.yirrmal.com.au

  • Any last words?

One foot in front of the other always works for me!

%d bloggers like this: