Miiesha – ‘Nyaaringu’ review: a fearless debut album that weaves a story about the Indigenous experience

A soulful r 'n' b record whose tales of discrimination, empowerment and freedom bear relevance well beyond Australia's borders

Hailing from the small Aboriginal community of Woorabinda in Central Queensland, Miiesha Young sings songs of community that have global relevance. She may have only released her first single last summer, but her debut record ‘Nyaaringu’ (a phrase meaning “what happened” in the Pitjantjatjara language) is a fully formed vision of intent.

The spoken-word introduction on album opener ‘Caged Bird’ – “I think for we who’ve been trodden on, not given a lot of freedom, you’ve got to believe in yourself” – sees Miiesha standing tall before the soulful choir puts those words into action.

Straight away, she snaps into the song that started it all, the quivering ‘Black Privilege’ that blends murmuring synths, resilient swagger and the powerful message of “survival ain’t that beautiful, I’ve just made it look this good for you”, before the pulsating swirl of ‘Drowning’ explores feelings of disenchantment and isolation. A sampled speech by Tony Abbott makes it very clear who is to blame.

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The spoken interludes that break up the album (voiced by Miiesha’s grandmother) give the record a fierce direction. Miiesha wants you to know exactly what she’s singing about and why. Her story in plain sight makes songs like ‘Drowning’ or ‘Caged Bird’ that much more impactful.

‘Nyaaringu’ is an ever-evolving creation that changes colour and shape on a knife’s edge. There’s another spoken-word introduction, on the interlude for ‘Hold Strong’: it explores the discrimination that Indigenous Australians have had to endure in the media, taking that spark and playing with industrial synths and soaring vocals to create a dynamic space. Frustration becomes fuel.

Elsewhere, the glitching build of ‘Tjitji’ flickers between electronic soundscapes and piano-led serenity while ‘Broken Tongues’ is a soulful moment of re-energising. Whatever form the moment takes though, ‘Nyaaringu’ is an album about empowerment and self-belief. It refuses to let itself be dragged down by other people.

There’s no better example of that than the dizzy heights of the one-two hit of ‘Twisting Words’ and ‘Blood Cells’. With Miiesha leaning into the world of r ’n’ b, all buoyant pop and bright colours, ‘Twisting Words’ is a joyful turn that shines bright with fearless energy and a wailing guitar solo, while the thundering ‘Blood Cells’ sees Miiesha at her most furious, “trying to make sense of this life”. It rages to the brink of collapse, but the artist is always in control.

Making the political personal and refusing to sugarcoat her truth, ‘Nyaaringu’ is a powerful collection of songs. Miiesha talks about the dangerous ignorance and racism she faces at home in Australia but with protests going on in the streets of the US and with the UK trying to make enemies of Europeans, it’s a worldwide problem that isn’t getting better.

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This is your journey,” promises the interlude for ‘Self Care’. “If you let racism and discrimination eat at you all the time, you’ll be very mentally unwell yourself. But you can show them the way people can live in harmony and come together. You can do that through your music.”

Later, as the curtain comes down on ‘Outro’, Miiesha’s grandmother says, “Every little step you take is a journey of a thousand miles.” And with ‘Nyaaringu’, they’re both encouraging you to go all the way.

Details

miiesha nyaaringu

Release date: May 29

Record label: EMI Music Australia

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