How Warumpi Band and George Rrurrambu definitively shaped Australian rock music

A nervy electric guitar picks out a series of rising triads, accompanied by the sound of Aboriginal clapsticks. As the pattern repeats, a chorus pedal exaggerates the sound of the open strings. The bass guitar shadows the riffs as a second guitar adds to the rising tension. A suspended chord. A burst of drums. And then a straight-ahead rock groove yanks the song into forward motion. The singer joins in enthusiastically:”Gurtha maynmak, gurtha yatj / Bili ngayi nguli wanganha yatjuma / Wiri buntja ngayi maynmak mirithirri“.

Warumpi Band Waru

30 years on from the release of their debut, the innovative mixed-race Warumpi Band continue to stand as one of Australia’s greats.

Waru is the rousing opening song on Big Name, No Blankets, the 1985 debut album by Warumpi Band. A two-CD retrospective, Warumpi Band 4 Ever, just released contains all three of their landmark albums as well as a raft of rare and unreleased recordings. As a longtime fan, I knew I would enjoy reacquainting myself with their classic material, but listening to this set has been a revelation. The music made by this pioneering mixed-race band still packs a powerful punch.

Waru, which means fire in English, was a perfect opening song for their debut album and hence this reissue. It’s a musical declaration of intent that tells us everything we need to know about its creators. Its lyrics deal with the way fire is viewed by two vastly different Australian cultures, European and Indigenous: “Is fire good? Is fire bad? / Because it destroys the home and the country / But sometimes this may be good / Grandfather, grandmother, mother and father / Have always used and been dependent on fire / For them it is very important“.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Saturday Paper. Read the full article here on their website

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