The magic of Miiesha, Woorabinda's unexpected star
On her debut collection of tracks Nyaaringu, the rising musician finds herself an incredibly exciting addition to Australian music.
Header image by Clare Nica.
Amongst a crowd of music industry workers either talking to their collegues with a beer in their hand or on their phone trying to work out which party has free booze, Miiesha encourages everyone to follow her on social media: "If you go on Instagram, the name is Miiesha," she says, before spelling it out not just once, but twice - the second time necessary, considering the short attention span of the BIGSOUND crowd in front of her.
Those who actually paid attention to one of Miiesha's BIGSOUND sets would already know that the Woorabinda woman is an exciting - and incredibly charming - addition to Australia's music world, albeit a somewhat unexpected one, with her Central Queensland home having a population struggling to hit 1000, and is well-known as being one of country's most disadvantaged townships and the place with the lowest employment rate in the country. In saying that, Miiesha's charm and voice transcends the boundaries placed in her way, and the last twelve months have seen her prove this time and time again.
It's something her debut collection of tracks Nyaaringu is here to showcase, presenting Miiesha and everything that's built who she is - her family, her community, her values and upbringing - through 13 tracks of twinkling R&B and heartful soul, sprinkled with mannerisms that make it an overwhelmingly beautiful and brilliant release. "Nyaaringu is a collection of stories that I wanted to tell," she says on the release, which arrived last Friday. "For me it represents my journey and where I'm at now coming from Woorabinda."
The first voice you hear on Nyaaringu is Miiesha's late Grandmother, whose wisdoms and learnings from Woorabinda make themselves known across Nyaaringu's scattered interludes as opportunities for Miiesha to tell her family's stories through her family themselves. It's something that many people may overlook as unimportant, but for Indigenous musicians like Miiesha, this generational storytelling is essential in preserving the legacy of her family and community, ensuring tales and learnings are not only kept for future generations, but shared wider than they've ever been before.
In many ways, Nyaaringu is Miiesha sharing these stories. It dives into the highs and lows of Miiesha's life and what's built her into the powerhouse she is today, from the teachings of her family and close ones - "For me, she was and always will stay with me as the strongest voice in my life so I felt she had to be a part of this with me," Miiesha continues on the topic of her Grandmother, and her involvement in the record - to the inclusion of moments like the one that begins Drowning, which you may pick up as being an excerpt from Tony Abbott's infamously tone-deaf Close The Gap speech, which still holds ramifications for Indigenous communities and their public perception years later.
On Broken Tongues, for example, Miiesha struggles with the feelings of not being good enough or fitting in with the crowd, while its second part reminds her of her worth and impact; "your story is important and you do belong," she says as she breaks down the release with hand-drawn visuals that build into Nyaaringu's larger story. Hold Strong reflects on her move from Woorabinda to Melbourne - where she's now based - and how moving to a bigger city allowed her to properly see the perceptions of her community in the media and public eye, while songs later on work similar to Broken Tongues' latter themes, and the stories of resilence that keeps her head up high.
“Nyaaringu means ‘what happened’ in Pitjantjatjara language," Miiesha tells NME in an interview accompanying the release of the record. "I was really lucky that I was able to go to Amata, the community where my grandfather was from [in South Australia], with my grandmother before she passed. Connecting with that country, those people and the language, it helped me to understand more of where I’m from and my nan’s story. Nyaaringu needed to be the title of this collection as these songs for me were about highlighting where I am and what it’s like to be an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island woman today. And, as my Elders say, ‘You don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve come from’."
Across Nyaaringu, you can hear Miiesha piece these stories and messages together with the intense range of emotions that define them, from the frustration and fear she's felt as an Indigenous musician to the feelings of power, hope and reinforcement that allows her to not just overcome them, but thrive in the face of them; something particularly being felt by communities in the world surrounding Nyaaringu's release, and the racism and brutality that has encouraged conversations and protests in the US, in Australia and beyond.
Nyaaringu may help many begin these conversations - it'd be a lie to dismiss Drowning and its opening introduction as anything but a major talking point of BIGSOUND last year, even if it's a small, industry-specific bubble - but even if it encourages one person to dive into the history and stories of the Pitjantjatjara people (or the other communities and people spread across the country), then Nyaaringu is successful in doing what Miiesha set out for it to do, and that's something that takes an incredibly special person who shouldn't be overlooked.
For those wanting to learn more about the Pitjantjatjara people, try here. If you're looking for a way to help Indigenous Australians and the battles they face, considering donating to one of the many charities and/or centres that ensure their protection and/or fight for their justice, which you can find in a Google Sheet put together by Kira Puru here.
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