Aboriginal Music Week at Lunch: Frank Yamma

Frank Yamma’s path to success has been anything but conventional.

Growing up in the Central Desert of Australia, the Pitjantjatjara singer/songwriter learned to play guitar by watching his father‘s fingers and toured with a number of local bands before taking a 10-year hiatus from music that involved health problems, prison time and homelessness. It wasn’t until the release of 2010’s Countryman, however, that his career truly began.

Whether he’s singing in English or his native language of Pitjantjatjara, Yamma’s husky voice and heartfelt lyrics combine for a stripped-down sound that is both simple and layered. But what truly sets Yamma apart is not his expressive voice or his reflective songwriting, but his ability to enchant. Sitting on stage and sharing his stories about home and heartache, and love and loss, his delivery is always soulful, authentic and raw.

Now in his 40s, Yamma is reaping the benefits of his persistence and his passion for music; his follow-up to Countryman (2014’s Uncle) won Best Independent Country Album at the 2015 Independent Music Awards and was nominated for a National Indigenous Music Award. His success has also taken him around the world, including multiple tours of Europe and appearances at folk festivals across Canada.

On Wednesday, Aug. 10, we have the privilege of featuring Frank at a lunch-time performance atop the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The free, all-ages show will be the second concert in Aboriginal Music Week’s four-part AMW at Lunch series.

We recently reached Frank at his office in Melbourne for a quick Q & A. Here’s what he had to say about musical influences, coming to Winnipeg and more.

Have you ever been to Winnipeg? 

I’ve been to Winnipeg and played a couple of shows there, including the (2014) Winnipeg Folk Festival. It’s a great place, I enjoyed playing there.

How would you describe your sound?

Just simple acoustic guitar and singing.

Who are some of your musical influences?FrankYamma_AMW

Too many to choose. For country music, I go for Slim Dusty. For rock and blues, I go for Stevie Ray Vaughan. I listen to everything – blues, jazz, all that stuff.

To say you’ve “made it” in the music biz is an understatement. How does one come from a remote community in central Australia to sharing the stage with the likes of Buffy Sainte-Marie and opening for Joan Baez?

I’ve just been picking up every opportunity I can grab. It’s been a lot of hard work and a long journey, but I love what I do and it’s been great.

You come as across as a man who’s pretty comfortable living a simple, quiet life in Adelaide. What’s it like traveling the world to play shows and being recognized internationally for your music?

I’m a quiet bloke at home, but when I’m touring around and playing I sing loud so people can hear me from every corner (laughs).

Do you prefer writing or performing? Why?

A bit of both. Writing helps to perform better, but when I’m performing for an audience I take a trip to places I’ve never been. I close my eyes and pretend I’m by myself rehearsing in my room.

What can people expect from a Frank Yamma performance?

Every experience will be different. It’s gonna be unique.

Aboriginal Music Week is now in its eighth year. Why do you think a festival devoted to celebrating indigenous talent is so important?

It’s important to get more Aboriginal people playing events like Aboriginal Music Week in Winnipeg. They have a lot of different people from all over playing there, so it’s very interesting to be a part of it.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I’m just gonna say: ‘Be there or be square!’ (laughs)

Stay tuned for our Q & A with Vancouver soulster David Morin, who will perform on Thursday, Aug. 11.

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