Frank Yamma is seen as one of Australia's finest singer-songwriters and guitarists, coming from the Central Australian desert and speaking and often singing in the language Pitjantjatjara as well as English. Last year he brought out an acclaimed album Countryman, produced by his friend, performer David Bridie. The songs on it include some of Frank's earlier classics looking at the struggles of Australian aboriginal people, such as Coolibah and Make More Spear. But there are also beautiful spine-tingling celebrations of his homeland, such as Ngura Waljilpa. On Wednesday (July 11), Frank plays a gig at Eden Court, before heading to the HebCelt Festival in Stornoway to play next Friday (July 13) on the Islands Stage. Below, he talks about his music and his life.
1 What did you learn and what did you love best about spending time playing in a band many places across Australia with your father and brothers when you were a young man?
FRANK: My father taught me everything I know about music and culture, traditional songs as a youngster and then from the age of seven I followed him around as he played his country and western and rock gigs all over the Northern Territory.
I learnt how to set up a PA how to put on a performance. It was a travelling musician's lifestyle and I learnt all from him.Whenever I play, my father always sits on my shoulder
2 I know that you are a Pitjantjatjara man and that you sing in that language as well as in English - two of the five languages I understand that you speak! I just wondered how you decide on which language for which songs. Or do they just come out the way they come out?
Some songs seem right to sing in that language and some in English. I mix them up on my records in my live set. It’s important these languages stay alive, they are 60,000 years old. It’s only over the last 200 years that they have started to disappear. It is the role of artists to let others know our customs, our culture our language.
3 Your songs Make More Spear and Coolibah were written when you were young (Make More Spear I think when you were just 16). Have the situations that inspired those songs - I think the role of alcohol and the losing by young men of their culture - improved in any way do you think?
Yes, things are improving. They would have wanted to, but there are still too many young people without hope, without a future, who drink themselves into head strain. But there are many aboriginal people who are setting a good example and changing the pattern, especially in sport and music
4 How big an achievement did it feel to record your album Countryman which has songs from across many years on it and has been getting some wonderful reviews? What are your best memories of making the album?
We recorded the album on a farm - big sky, beautiful country in New South Wales. Working with David [Bridie] on the album was easy, we have worked a lot before. When I was younger, I used to rock out big time. Now I like to put space and soul in my music.
5 Your songs seem to connect you to both your home country and it's beauty (like Ngura Waljilpa) and to the difficulties and injustice of the modern world facing a Pitjantjatjara man. Does writing and singing your songs help you to balance those things?
Yes. I am never more happy than playing my music to others. It helps me express my emotions, my culture and makes me at peace with myself.
6 I think in a recent interview, you said you would like to take your music to all the people who would like to hear it. I know as well as Inverness and the Heb Celt Festival in Stornoway you are playing an Olympic concert and WOMAD. How does it make you feel to be reaching out with your music to new ears and fresh places?
I am very excited. David tells me that the Outer Hebrides will be a bit like the desert, but colder and greener and near the ocean. In the desert, the landscape is bigger than people and that is a good thing. Sing SIng will join me together with artists from all over the Pacific. They are like my countrymen, but each come from ancient cultures...I have worked with Telek and Mogu before. It will be very exciting. And I have played in London only a year go and a couple of times before that. It will be good to return.
On Wednesday (July 11) at 7.30pm, Frank plays a gig at Eden Court, before heading to the HebCelt Festival in Stornoway to play next Friday (July 13) on the Islands Stage. For more information about Frank and his music, go to www.facebook.com/frankyamma