For almost a decade Melbourne’s AWME (Australasian World Music Expo) has been showcasing the Southern Hemisphere’s finest talent, and this year is no different. A familiar face at the expo is singer/songwriter Frank Yamma. He returns this year to celebrate the release of his latest studio LP, Uncle (out now via Wantonk Musik). “I’ve played it [the expo] before and they’ve asked me back! I always enjoy it and I’ll be there again this November.”
Frank Yamma is a man with a strong sense of identity. Although his exceptional skills have taken him all over the world, this Pitjantjatjara man knows there is no place like home. “Australia is my home. My mob are from the heart of the country.” That’s where his spirit belongs.
I sat down with Yamma in the wake of his highly anticipated performance at Adelaide’s Semaphore Festival. As always he managed to draw a healthy crowd, with people flocking to hear his sonorous tones. Playing to thousands in the city he’s called home for years is something he always looks forward to.
“It’s just another one of those great gigs I’m asked to play,” Yamma says, before excusing himself to answer his wife in Pitjantjatjara, just one of the five languages he speaks.
Yamma proudly follows in the footsteps of his late father, musician Isaac Yamma, one of the pioneers in using traditional language mixed with English in Western-style music. “I grew up playing my father’s guitar. He’d say, ‘Son, don’t take that guitar too far away!’ But I’d always go wandering and end up sitting in front of the corner store, playing music for the people passing by,” Yamma laughed warmly.
“He had all the best instruments … Sometimes I sit back and think what a trip I had with my dad!” he chuckled. “Those childhood memories are the best, him teaching me guitar and listening to him sing.”
Frank Yamma has been releasing music in one form or another for years, but his career was re-invigorated with the release of 2010’s Countryman. His tales of love and loss and the importance of heritage and cultural legacy showed the courage of his convictions and strength of character.
We know that music can break down barriers, however even Yamma admits he was surprised when the offers came flooding in from around the world. “I’ve been able to travel all over the world … but Adelaide is good enough for me!” he added with a grin.
It’s hard to ignore an international tour CV that includes playing Slovenia’s Festival Bled, The New Hebridean Festival in Scotland, Colours of Octavia in Czech Republic, London’s WOMAD Festival and the 2012 Cultural Olympiad – not to mention bringing down the house while opening for Joan Baez in Canada earlier this year.
Content with being home, Yamma soon got to work on the follow-up to Countryman, calling on mentor and longtime collaborator David Bridie (Not Drowning, Waving). “He’s great. We’re really comfortable together. David produced Countryman, and I wanted to work with him again.
“Some of the songs on Uncle were written with David almost ten years ago,” Yamma said. (Around the same time he and David won an AGSC Screen Music Award for the Best Original Song composed for the TV series The Alice.) “So we had to polish them up before we got back in the studio. I have too many songs in my head!” Yamma joked, before saying that he’s busy practising for the AWME and for WOMEX 14, the world music expo held in Spain later this month. “I’m the first Australian asked to go in over five years! I’m very excited!”
When&Where: AWME, Shebeen – November 15, Sooki Lounge, Belgrave – November 13, Theatre Royal, Castlemaine – November 14 & Rivers to Recognition, Williamstown – December 7
By Natalie Rogers