Noongar Wonderland album in endangered language marks UN Indigenous milestone

West Australian artist Clint Bracknell has combined his passion for music and his native Noongar Indigenous language to release an album that celebrates the ecological creatures of the region.

It follows a multi-sensory stage performance of the same name at the Perth Festival this year.

Bracknell, a professor of Indigenous languages, is also known by his affectionate nickname, Maatakitj, which translates to “long legs like a spear”.

“It’s a big sort of thing, I’ve been making music since I was young, working across genres doing everything from country music to hip-hop and every place in between and I’ve never really hit the mark and done something I’ m really proud off or going to share,” Bracknell said.

“For the past decade or more I’ve been really trying numerous song traditions and figuring out some sort of way to make music more meaningful than the things I’ve done in the past.”

The album, Noongar Wonderland, arrives after more than a decade of research and immersion into Noongar language and song.

“It’s been informed by research in a more formal way through Australian Research Council funding and my work at various universities and now the University of Queensland,” he said.

Preserving language

The album is released in an endangered language to mark the beginning of the United Nations International Decade of Indigenous Languages.

Bracknell felt a sense of responsibility by releasing the music in the language.

“I didn’t want to step into it too soon and I wanted to be really sure that what I was doing was going to be positive and not just self-serving,” he said.

“That’s why I’ve spent more than a decade trying to be part of this journey with a whole group of people including senior people and more people in my peer group.

“It is about the country too, figuring out how we can all work together and share something and keep something alive and strong.”

Bracknell said it was a conscious choice to embrace dance music for the album and collaborated with ARIA Award-winning Australian musician Paul Mac.

“You can hear it, it’s got the Paul Mac sheen to it,” he said.

“Having it as dance music was something that hadn’t really been done before but was going to capture the same energy as a corroboree-style performance, because corroboree is all about dance.

Barry McGuire and Maatakitj (Clint Bracknell) at rehearsals on the Swan River.,Supplied: Cassandra Edwards,

The songs celebrate the ecological value of kworlak (bull sharks), baamba (stingrays), dwerdawanart (dolphins), yornan (bobtail lizards), woordawoort (dragonflies), and demangka (groundwater) in the south-west of Western Australia.

“There’s a lot of dancing the kangaroo and dancing the emu and dancing these other creatures but what about these other creatures that used to have a dance and don’t anymore,” he said.

“We started with the bull shark because we thought there should be something to not just raise attention of the bull shark but also increase respect so that we live more harmoniously with the bull shark.”

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