Album Review: Warren H Williams & The Warumungu Songmen - Winanjjara: The Song Peoples Sessions

4 June 2012 | 7:40 pm | Bob Baker Fish

A really unique hybrid of influences, blending the traditional, his own country style and electronic programming...

Not much Indigenous music makes it down these parts. There are exceptions of course, national treasures such as Archie Roach and Gurrumul, but in the main we seem content to view our past and present through a distinctly white Anglo prism, keeping our Indigenous influence to the football field.

Born about 120km west of Alice Springs, Warren H Williams' music is a unique kind of country blues. He's long toured Australia and New Zealand, even recorded with John Williamson, yet this is his first album in language, reconnecting with his grandmother's family in Warumungu country to compose and record. The result is a really unique hybrid of influences, blending the traditional, his own country style and electronic programming courtesy producer Tim Cole. Cole admittedly lays a sparse beat, attempting to subtly manipulate the music, not put his stamp on it. There are synthetic textures played by Williams, yet also the sound of the traditional songmen, recorded outside with little accompaniment, interspersed regularly. It's a strange, distinctly Australian fusion that shouldn't work on paper but somehow does.  

The second disc is the raw unadorned traditional music, verses from a ceremonial song cycle of a Warumungu dance called Pujjali. It comes from the tradition of passing on knowledge and culture via song and, though this piece feels incredibly powerful, highly ceremonial, it is an open song, okay for non-initiates to hear. Sung in language by multiple males, it's music that comes in waves, with sparse accompaniment clacking away, before pausing, allowing the voices to begin again. Each verse tells a separate tale of an ancestor's travels through the Warumungu country, detailing encounters with snakes, now extinct marsupials, trees, waterholes and a cracked desert. There's a real repetition here without knowing the language, yet this creates a compellingly hypnotic effect, lulling you easily into its world.