Yirrmal Marika

Subscribe to Forte Magazine

Yirrmal Marika

“Music is in our blood, it connects us up with our family. When we sing it’s like we’re calling our ancestors.” Meet Yirrmal Marika, a leader in the new generation of Indigenous artists. He is an inspiring young musician and singer-songwriter performing as a solo artist and within a group, Yirrmal & the Yolngu Boys. “When we sing, we sing with our hearts,” Yirrmal affirms. “It helps us to relate to our culture. We blend traditional Aboriginal songs with contemporary western music.”
When Yirrmal talks of music in his blood, he means it quite literally. His father, Witiyana Marika, was a key member of the trailblazing band Yothu Yindi, and on his mother’s side he’s related to Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. Yirrmal’s raw talent was noticed early on: “I first started performing at thirteen years old with my school band back in Yirrkala [North East Arnhem Land]. It was there that I built my confidence and decided I was ready to go to the next level – writing and performing my own songs.”
Not long after that, his talent, maturity and strength of character were recognised by his school and by Elders in his home community, and Yirrmal was selected for the Leadership Program offered by the Geelong-based Marrma’ Rom Two Worlds Foundation. Established in 2011, the foundation (that translates to ‘two worlds, two cultures or two belief systems’ in Yolngu Matha, the language of the people of Arnhem Land) aims to empower the next generation of young men to become role models in their community.
“It’s a not-for-profit organisation that encourages Indigenous youth to walk confidently in both worlds and gain independence, knowledge and skills,” explained CEO Cam Begg.
As a former teacher at various schools in remote NT communities, Begg is a passionate supporter of Indigenous education. Now a teacher in Geelong, he is also Yirrmal’s manager. “This is Yirrmal’s fourth year in the program. He spent the first few years in Geelong with us and now he’s on campus at NMIT.”
Yirrmal has continued to thrive in his studies and musical endeavours, though he admits feeling homesick now and again. “When I first came down to Geelong from Yirrkala, it was very hard being away from home. It really was like a whole new world, but now I am finding it much easier … I understand things more,” Yirrmal divulged.
“I do like studying at NMIT and I love my music courses, but it is very hard!” Yirrmal said with a smile. The importance of education is not lost on Yirrmal, something he hopes to share through his music.
“Education is the key to opening up the world!” Yirrmal recognises. “It’s important to understand the culture of your tribe, but also to see that you can live in both worlds, go forward and have a future.
“I see a lot of Indigenous kids back at home, hanging around all night. I see them go to school with no breakfast, and they can’t pay attention at school. It’s very overwhelming. I want to spread the word through music – live your life but go to school, get an education.
“I’m learning all the time. I really wanted to play piano and I met Barry Morgan [comedian Stephen Teakle] at the Woodford Festival. He came over to see my show, and even though my guitar was out of tune (which he fixed for me), he loved it! We met after the show, became friends and now he’s mentoring me on music theory!” he laughed.
“I also want to gain experience from professional songwriters. At the moment I’ve co-written some demos with [prolific songwriter] Shane Howard and Neil Murray [who wrote APRA ‘Song of the Year’ ‘My Island Home’], but I’d love to work with Gotye and Uncle Archie [Roach].”
“Yirrmal hasn’t written anything with Archie yet, but it’s definitely on the cards,” Begg confirms. “We’re doing something again with Shane and Neil early next year, then we’ll put out an EP mid-next year.”
If you can’t wait ’til then, Yirrmal’s debut single Deep Blue Sea is out now. And don’t miss the chance to catch Yirrmal & the Yolngu Boys at this year’s Birregurra Music Festival where Yirrmal will be joined by the Yolngu Boys – Dion Wunungmurra, Jerol Wunungmurra, Mabo Mununggurritj and Raven Marika. Their performances have been described as refreshing and uplifting, as they mash up traditional Yolngu Manikay ceremonial songs with modern music. Backed by the bass and percussion instruments, they dance, sing and play the didge. Expect an engaging and visually exciting performance.
When&Where: Birregurra Music Festival – October 10-12
By Natalie Rogers