One of Australia’s most exciting Indigenous ‘supergroups’ will hit the Bluesfest stage tomorrow in a performance that promises to deliver a sizzling fusion of rock, reggae and ceremonial song poetry.
Hailing from the coastal community of Yirrkala on the Gove Peninsula in north-east Arnhem Land – tribal stomping ground of 80s band Yothu Yindi – East Journey transmute the stories and songlines of their Yolngu homelands into an infectious contemporary sound Rolling Stone Magazine dubbed “explosive”. The seven-piece outfit has garnered critical acclaim and national airplay ever since it released its full-length debut album Guwak in 2012. This was followed by the singles “Bright Lights Big City” in 2013, which earned the band the 2014 Film Clip of the Year at the National Indigenous Music Awards; “Song of Arnhem Land” and “EMU”.
Featuring the grandsons and nephews of Yothu Yindi’s Dr. Yunupingu*, East Journey includes Rrawun Maymuruis (lead singer), Arian Pearson (acoustic guitar), Malngay Yunupingu (backing vocals), PJ White (lead guitar), Marcus Marawili (bass guitar), Gathapura Mununggurr (drums) and dancer Ngalkanbuy Mununggurr (also on yidaki and bilma).
Arian, who spends “most weekends hunting fish with spears, collecting mussels and oysters, and catching crabs”, describes the group’s creative process: “When my brother and I sit down to write music we get the sounds from that original, traditional music – that’s where we start – and then we find the contemporary sounds that meld with it. It’s amazing how well they complement each other.”
Not only does the band share its language, culture and Country through a mix of catchy choruses and contemporary rock riffs but also broader, universal themes, as is evident in “Bright Lights Big City”.
“The narrative of that song is about slowing down in our fast-moving world, especially with technology and our need to catch up with it,” Arian explains. “It’s about taking the time to have a breath and finding that balance, to be sustainable, be true to ourselves, and to make sure there is going to be a future for other generations.”
East Journey lead singer Rrawun Maymuru penned the hit song ‘Bayini’, which gave Gurrumul his first No.1 ARIA Chart position in 2013
East Journey’s second album, The Genesis Project, is a collaboration with the surviving mentors from Yothu Yindi and was produced by Native American guitarist Stevie Salas, who has worked with the likes of Mick Jagger, George Clinton, Aerosmith and Justin Timberlake. As with all of the band’s content, the album draws from a deep well of ancestral wisdom, kinship, connection and songlines.
“A lot of songlines speak of the science of the land, and they often express themselves in the form of poetry,” Arian explains. “They connect us to everything – the art, the land, the people – and you can’t break that bond. In your heart you are forever linked to it. We don’t own songlines, only belong to them. We are like the tongue for that land. Our job is to tell the stories of that land because it can’t speak for itself.”
In addition to performing tomorrow at the Bluesfest Crossroads Stage between 1:45pm and 2:45pm (just before Archie Roach), East Journey will also play twice daily in the Boomerang Precinct. This First Nations festival, which is running concurrently with Bluesfest on the same site, will showcase Aboriginal arts, workshops, music, and authentic cultural exchanges.
“Boomerang is providing that cross-cultural connection, and education, for many non-Indigenous people in Australia who may be reluctant to reach out and experience Indigenous culture. To take the time to not only watch but also participate,” Arian says. “Hopefully people will walk away with a greater understanding of Aboriginal culture, and this land that we are custodians of. It’s all about sharing and communicating and ensuring that, when it comes to the future, we can share our identity and our values. Then hopefully we can walk side-by-side.”
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*Yunupingu Family Statement
“At a meeting with the family of Yothu Yindi‘s lead singer Mr Yunupingu… convened by his older brother Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM and attended by band member Witiyana Marika and the children and grandchildren of the deceased the following was agreed regarding media protocols: The family has requested that in line with Yolngu cultural protocols that the first names of the deceased are not to be used until further notice. Appropriate references are: Mr Yunupingu or Dr Yunupingu or Mr M. Yunupingu. Also appropriate are “lead singer of the Yothu Yindi band” and “1992 Australian of the Year”. The family is comfortable with Mr Yunupingu’s image being published in various formats including television, video, print, internet (including facebook) and the music of Yothu Yindi being played on radio. Thank you for your support and respect for Yolngu culture.”