Winanjjara – The Song Peoples’ Sessions

Warren H Williams and the Warumungu Songmen. Sung in Aboriginal languages
Contemporary, Indigenous Australian
2 CDs. ABC Music 279 6239
Reviewed by , October 3rd, 2014

Winanjjara means song man in the Northern Territory language of Warumungu.

This double CD by Warren H Williams and the Waramungu Songmen is a major project that is part of an important Federal Government initiative known as The Song Peoples’ Sessions. The project has developed collaborations between traditional and contemporary Australian indigenous musicians to support the protection of cultural heritage and maintenance of indigenous languages and traditional song cycles. The aim was also to encourage collaborations that span both the disparate genres and vast time scale of Australian indigenous music. CD releases include archival material of traditional music blended with recent recordings of both traditional and contemporary indigenous musicians.

warren H Williams

Born west of Alice Springs at Hermannsburg Mission, Warren H Williams is a very well known country music singer, songwriter and guitar player. He has won Golden Guitar and Deadly awards. This CD represents a major departure for Williams as he returned to the Warumungu people of his grandmother to record his first album entirely in Aboriginal languages from both sides of his family, Warumungu and Western Arrarnta. He had to relearn the languages and immerse himself in the culture of his Aboriginal cultural heritage.

Winanjjara is comprised of one CD of traditional music telling stories handed down over centuries and one of contemporary songs written as a result of Warren’s collaboration with the Warumungu Songmen.

The traditional CD includes 19 tracks which are verses from a ceremonial song cycle of a Warumungu dance called Pujjali telling the story of an ancestor’s travels through the desert, detailing encounters with snakes, extinct marsupials, trees and waterholes. The Songmen’s voices accompanied by percussion created by boomerangs being clapped together are fascinating particularly when the listener understands the meaning and significance of the words which are translated in the extensive CD booklet. Fortunately it is an open song cycle and permission was granted for non-initiates to hear these ancient songs.

The contemporary CD deftly combines new songs written by Williams, translated into Warumungu and Western Arrarnta with choruses drawn from the Songmen’s recordings singing in octaves that conjure up the desert, the sky and their strong connection to the land. The songs are about love, loneliness, longing, home, childhood, family and how deeply moved Williams was by the experience of creating music with his clan. A sense of belonging permeates the lyrics that is accentuated by the rhythms and tones of the language.

The album is beautifully produced and engineered by ARIA and Deadly award-winning producer Tim Cole. It is probably his influence that resulted in another major departure for Williams. While using some guitar, the arrangements have him playing keyboards and synthesizers that create a mythical quality to the soundscape. Natural sounds of the desert and spoken word elements keep the listener mesmerised in a dreamlike sonic environment. The resulting textures are truly unique. A touch of country music, sweeping keyboards, contemporary sparse grooves and basses, very contemporary production and mixing techniques and Warren H Williams’ gentle voice singing in lilting languages speak of the ancient origins of our continent. And then the magic ingredient and powerful impact of the Songmen who return in uplifting waves of simplicity, ritual and grandeur.

From the first glorious track I was completely lost in this CD. I felt I was listening to the first true Australian fusion of contemporary and ancient music.

For anyone interested in learning more about this fascinating project, these video links of Warren H Williams working with the Songmen will further enhance the story.


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