Frank Yamma oral history

Indigenous musician goes on the record
 Brenda Gifford
Frank Yamma. Photo courtesy of Wax Lyric

I recently attended the Yabun Festival 2013, held in late January at Sydney Park.

The festival is an annual event that highlights the talent in Indigenous music in Australia. This year’s line-up included Warren Williams, Uncle Archie Roach, Uncle Vic Simms, Mop and the Dropouts, and Frank Yamma.

Uncle Archie Roach performed music form his latest album Into the Bloodstream, presenting a killer set with backing from an all-Indigenous choir. Uncle Vic Simms performed a blistering rock’n‘roll set with his five-piece band. The concert concluded with a performance by the iconic Queensland Aboriginal band Mop and the Dropouts and their song ‘Brisbane Blacks’.

The event was a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and listen to some of the amazing musical talent from around Aboriginal Australia. I also had the pleasure of interviewing singer-songwriter Frank Yamma for the NFSA’s Oral history program.

Given that Indigenous culture is oral-based, it is crucial that the NFSA put Indigenous musicians and their stories ‘on the record’ so they can be represented in the collection. The NFSA has recognised the inherent value of the spoken word as a powerful tool in the preservation of audiovisual culture. Indigenous oral histories and interviews record the stories of Indigenous music and film pioneers, creators, performers from around Australia. They capture the stories and experiences of Indigenous people who have contributed to the creation of a rich audiovisual heritage and culture.

Frank is a Pitjantjatjara man from the central desert. He speaks seven languages and sings in Pitjantjatjara and English. He spoke about growing up and playing in his father Isaac Yamma’s country and western band, and how his culture is expressed through his music.

Yamma is a formidable presence on stage and a unique voice in Australian music. His album Countryman and the hauntingly beautiful song ‘She Cried’ are a testament to his powerful vocals and ability to relay life experience through music.

In the following excerpt from the interview, Frank discusses the song ‘She Cried’:

In the second excerpt, he talks about singing in language: