Tamwoy, whose debut 2015 EP Ngaw Laag helped him earn the National NAIDOC Youth of the Year Award, has been building an ever-growing fan base since he featured on the 2016 season of reality-TV show Australia’s Got Talent.
The singer and guitarist has continued to win hearts for his genre-defying music – which blends elements of his cultural heritage with blues, country, reggae and acoustic folk – and the 24-year-old has shared the stage with likes of Colin Hay, Birds of Tokyo and Aloe Blacc.
Tamwoy admitted 2020 had not started off the way he had hoped, saying he had originally envisioned it “kind of like the year for me to shine”.
“I just wanted to go in hard but unfortunately, with COVID-19, it’s I kind of put a slow to all of the things I had planned,” he told InQueensland. “But I think the positives that I take from this is being able to write new music and just being able to work on my craft as a musician.”
Tamwoy recently signed with ABC Music and his second single for the label, ‘Kulba Yuday’, was written by Anu in 1995, and she has said the song came to her in a dream “due to the influences of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander musicians that were affecting my social conscience at the time”.
Written in Anu’s Mother’s language, Kalaw Kawaw Ya – which is indigenous to the Central and Western Torres Strait Islands – the song pays homage to the islands’ oral traditions and customs.
“I wanted the song, ‘Kulba Yaday’, to pay homage to our oral traditions and to remember what is a strong part of our customs. These very traditions are being lived by, still to this day, based on kulba yaday,” Anu said.
Tamwoy, who has Western and Eastern Torres Strait Islander heritage and was raised in the Strait, said the song, which has long been a favourite, was one he had played at family barbecues and social gatherings for years “with my cousin-sister Tania Rose”.
“At these family barbecues, me and Tania would jam and then one day I was like, ‘you know what? Let’s try this on stage at my next show’.
Tamwoy admitted “the first two attempts were pretty rough because we had a microphone and an audience in front of us” but he said the pair quickly gained enough confidence in their abilities with the song that he decided to ask for Anu’s blessing to record the song for inclusion on his debut album, Reality Is.
“I decided to ask Christine if I could take the song, and put it on my album and record it, and she immediately replied ‘yes’,” he said. “Then when I went to show Tania that Christine had responded, there was another message from her, and she had said ‘would you perhaps like me to do a duet with you?’ I looked at Tania and I was like … well, let’s just say I went from zero to 100 real quick.
“I was like, ‘wow, this is like a historical moment, pretty much like the meaning of the song. Kulba means old, and Yaday means to talk, and the lyrics describe, basically, the passing down of knowledge from generation to generation.
“In this case, with Christine and I, 2020 marks the 25th anniversary [of Anu’s recording of the song], and I’m 24 years old, so you can see definitely how Kulba Yaday has acted in its meaning by passing it down from Christine’s generation to my generation.
“Singing her song and being able to collaborate with her set the benchmark high and for me it’s a major accomplishment and I think just having the OK and green light from my elders, it kind of puts everything into perspective.”
Asked for what the rest of 2020 holds, Tamwoy said he remained focused on finishing Reality Is and also was also planning a trip back to country for a special project when travel restrictions eased.
“We’re looking at the release of that later on this year and then we’ve also got a documentary that I’ll be filming for NITV that will feature my music and the birth of my music and my culture, which will be filmed back home on Badu Island and that’s going to be filmed later this year and released that in 2021.”
Tamwoy said he took great pride in being able to showcase his culture on Australia’s Got Talent and hoped his continued success would be an inspiration to young people growing up in the Torres Strait, much like Anu and her music had been for him in his formative years.
“I just wanted to get my message out about showcasing who I am as a, as a Torres Strait Islander man and I really wanted to do my family and friends proud,” he said.
“I think coming from the small village like the one I was raised in in the Torres Strait, I really wanted community members to feel inspired. A lot of youth are afraid to leave home in the Torres Strait to come and explore bigger and better opportunities on the mainland, so I wanted to inspire them.
“Everyone loves music in the Torres Strait and you know, a lot of people are very talented but I think there’s this whole feeling of being embarrassed to showcase their talents. I wanted to take it to a level where, you know, where I’m in front of a crowd on television, and hopefully bring some inspiration and I think I’ve done that for many up and coming musicians as well.”Jump to next article