Various Artists: Sounds of the Pilbara II – Songs in Language

I SOTPfound this album to be very difficult to review, but not because it’s good or bad or somewhere in between (which is something I’ll return to). Instead, I found it difficult because, as a fairly typical left-wing white Australian, I wanted to be as culturally sensitive as I can – the lack of up-to-the-minute information regarding the various artists featured on it, combined with the tradition of not naming the deceased common to many Indigenous Australians, stops me from breaking it down song-by-song and artist-by-artist, and instead means that I have to review the album as a whole.

And what an album it is…

A collaboration between Celebrate WA and Karlka Nyiyaparli Aboriginal Corporation, Sounds of the Pilbara II: Songs in Language spotlights five of the different Indigenous Australian languages native to the Pilbara region (of which there are more than 30 in total), and features 14 contributing artists, as well as over 40 students from Warralong and Strelly community schools. The 25 tracks contained within range from traditional Indigenous Australian songs – typically just clap-sticks and vocals, which feature short introductions spoken in English for those unfamiliar with the language they are sung in – to more contemporary song styles, which are predominately country or rock and are mostly sung in one of the five aforementioned languages.

And here lies the second difficulty I encountered in reviewing this record: its ethnographic nature. The terms “good” or “bad” don’t really apply to albums of this nature. Instead, they are typically intended as an introduction to the kinds of music specific to particular ethnic and/or cultural groups (and therefore as an introduction to the groups themselves), and so they tend to exist outside the concept of judgmental and quality-based reviews – the ability to appreciate them depends on your interest in the ethnic and/or cultural groups that they showcase.

If you, like me, are interested in the culture and music of our Indigenous Australian brothers and sisters, then get your hands on it – you won’t regret it.

(Originally published on Cyclic Defrost, 11/1/2016)

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