Emily awakes, with a little help from her Powderfinger friends

Emily Wurramara

When Powderfinger frontman Bernard Fanning gives you advice you listen — and that’s exactly what emerging singer-songwriter Emily Wurramara has done.

The 20-year-old, who is based in Brisbane, has just released her first single, Ngerraberrakernama, or Wake Up Wake Up, and has her first album coming out in a few months’ time.

It will be followed by a national tour.

“I think the best advice he (Fanning) gave me was to be proud,” she says.

“He said, ‘you should be proud of where you come from and that you still have a language’.

It was really nice of him to say that.”

Wurramara says the three days she spent working with Fanning two years ago as part of the Queensland Performing Arts Centre’s Clancestry program — an annual week-long festival celebrating the arts and cultural practices of the world’s indigenous people — was a defining point in her life.

She says he helped her with Wake Up Wake Up, the song that has become the jewel of her coming EP and into which she has incorporated a lot of her culture.

“Bernard actually helped me write the chords and stuff, to make it sound a bit more lovely,” she says. “He did an awesome job. He helped me with the harmony. He helped me with the composition and the whole songwriting and the arrangement.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor.”

From Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory, Wurramara moved to Queensland with her family as a child and has always wanted to make music.

She says she has been writing songs since she was six, but didn’t set her sights on a professional career until the ripe old age of eleven. She sings in both English and Annandilyakwa, the traditional language of her NT home.

“When I was younger we used to go to cultural events like funerals and ceremonies and stuff,” she says. “I used to love sitting down and listening to the old men singing.

“I noticed when I went back when I was seven or eight for a funeral the women didn’t sing. “Back in the old days it was the woman who led the ceremony and sang the ceremony song. That was through my culture.

“I wanted to change that. I started writing and playing and trying to pick up as many instruments as I could.”

Wurramara now plays the keyboard, the saxophone, the violin and the ukulele, which she believes is an often overlooked instrument and performs with the two-member band Black Smoke, which is made up of Yarun Dawson-Sandy (didgeridoo, clapsticks, rapper) and Saraima Navara (guitar, back up vocals).

They were finalists in the indigenous section of the Queensland Music Awards which were held this week for two songs, Wake Up Wake Up and Black Smoke, but missed out on the top gong. And they have supported performers including Troy Cassar-Daley.

“My ultimate goal is to make it into the mainstream music,” Wurramara says. “That’s definitely my dream — to make it to the ARIA charts or the MTV awards.”

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