Updated: May 18, 2022
Enigmatic, captivating and incredibly gifted are just a few words to describe Yirrmal's distinct and passionate art of storytelling. Transcending time and space, his music creates accessible, powerful and authentic sonic offerings of passion and truth, helping people to feel good, and to feel good about themselves.
Paving the path for a new generation of Indigenous artists, his works share his joy of creating, re-telling and performing stories as old as time with a fresh, inspired and contemporary reflection.
After a couple years of radio silence the Yirrkala artist has honed his craft and returned better than ever with double single releases 'Get Happy' and 'Dhaliwuy Bay'.
We caught up with Yirrmal to chat all about the two tracks, writing with Neil Murray, what inspired him to start playing and his upcoming album.
For anyone that hasn’t listened to your music, how would you describe it in four words?
Unique; Heartfelt; Hopeful; Quirky
Was there a key moment that inspired you to start playing music?
When I was a boy sitting with my Dad, Witiyana (co-founder Yothu Yindi) at ceremony listening to the stories that were being sung, listening to how our people would structure the manikay (song), and use the rhythmic beats. It inspired me to start thinking about music as a way to express myself so I could tell my own stories. I moved down to Geelong after that to complete my education, and studied music for a while after that before I moved back home to Arnhem Land about five years ago.
Now your double singles hit the airwaves late last month, can you tell us a bit about ‘Get Happy’ and ‘Dhaliwuy Bay’? What do the tracks mean to you?
'Get Happy' is a bit of fun! It’s a song I wrote with Neil Murray and it’s about just being in that moment, really living in the moment - I mean not constantly looking down at your phone or taking selfie after selfie, but really living in that time and in that place and savouring life. 'Get Happy 'is very different but it’s also very simple, and it represents how I want to be in life, still understanding all these pressures of such a fast paced world, but being able to step outside of that to be present and nurture yourself and your family and friends with happiness, hopefulness and positivity.
Dhaliwuy Bay is a track about love and loss, grief and remembering people you love. When I sing this I think about my grandfather and my grandmother and how much I miss them. It’s an emotional song for me, and I love to sing it because I get to really dig deep down and touch that space where there is no divide and no space between who is not here any more and who is left. I feel at home when I sing this song, it’s a very strong connection of place, a very strong connection to what lies beyond and a very strong connection to family.
Can you take us through your songwriting and recording process for the two tracks?
Neil Murray and I wrote 'Get Happy' quite a few years ago now; it’s been in the back of my mind for a while and I really wanted to include it on my first album this year. When I was down south I got together with Neil and we did some songwriting, but never really got around to recording it, although I had been playing it at my gigs. With Dhaliwuy Bay, again I wrote this several years ago, and its a song that evokes a lot of emotion in people so a lot of people ask for this song. Last year I took some demos down to Andrew Farriss’ Piedmont Studio, which is near a little town called Barraba, near Tamworth in NSW. His Studio is on his farm, and I stayed there for about 4 weeks with Andrew, his family and our session musicians.
We got to know each other really well, and we also had Ben Hakalitz from Yothu Yindi come down from Cairns to lay down the drum tracks, and Laurie Minson who is an amazing guitarist really blew me away. Andrew put down some keys and away we went - it was just a hive of creativity. Studios 301 came down to Piedmont and recorded the sessions at Andrew’s Studio and then the music was taken back to be mixed and mastered in their Sydney office. Get Happy could be a lot different to what people expect that I would create; I think it is really timely and could well be what people need right now after a tough few years, to get happy!
You’ve mentioned that you love to help people feel good and put a smile on their face with your music, what message do you want listeners to take away from your music?
For me personally, I would really love people to walk away with a sense of hope, a sense of positivity, and for people to know that if they are going through a tough time, that they are not alone. There’s a lot of other stuff going on in our world, and it’s no shame to go outside of that for a moment and just surrender to what moves you. Music is such a powerful tool, it can elevate us, it communicates to us as people in such a way that other forms of communication might not be able to. If you think about it, most people can remember what they were doing at a certain point in time in their life by reflecting on what the music of that era was. Music definitely makes me happy!
What does your ideal environment look like when you’re getting creative?
I like to do a mix of working on initial pieces myself when I get inspired at that moment, and I also like to take that moment and share it with others, and feed off other people’s energy and vibe. When I am in the zone, (whether it’s by myself on my verandah at home or out bush, on the phone talking to someone about the idea, or whether I am sitting down with others); I am completely in that zone - that is the place to be!
You also have an album coming out this October, tell us all about it! What does the record mean to you?
This record has been a long time coming. I recorded it in June last year (2021) with Andrew Farriss, and have just been taking my time, slowly putting things into place. I don’t want to rush anything. The album means a lot to me, there’s a lot of my heart and my soul in there, and all of these tracks tell a story that needs to be told. My music is like a part of me and I need to nurture these tracks but I also need to let go of them and let them fly. And when I do that I’ll be ready to move on to do more recordings. I’m just in a great place with my life right now, and I’m very thankful and blessed.
What track off the album is your favourite and why?
Wow, that’s a hard one! I really love them all but one of my favourites is Shining Light, it’s about my homeland, a very special place for the Rirratjingu clan - it is truly magical and spiritual.
What else can fans expect for the year, could we be seeing some shows?
I’ll be performing at Darwin Festival this year in August on closing night, and looking at touring late this year, early next year, so I look forward to seeing everyone then! Until then, take care, keep smiling and get happy!
Stream 'Get Happy' and 'Dhaliwuy Bay' now!