Iwantja – Palya (Wontok Music)

Hailing from Central Australia, from Indulkana, near the border between Northern Territory and South Australia, Iwantja are everything but the kitchen sink music. They wear their influences on their sleeves, and on their debut album they want to touch upon as many of these as possible. This kind of youthful exuberance comes across as quite charming as some of the juxtapositions between songs are near hysterical.

We’re talking desert reggae one track, Megadeth style metal or Zepplinesque riffs the next, followed by sweet gentle emotional Gurrimal style crooning. It’s hard to know how exactly to place these disparate threads, and you get the sense that their isolation and tyranny of distance (Indulkana is 575 km out of Alice Springs, and the population is about 250) contributes significantly to how their influences are synthesized.

They sing songs about love, grog, Maralinga, about traditional life and partying, sung in the main in language. Their guitarist in particular is amazing, you can tell he’s been raised on a diet of Satriani and Hendrix and will often come in quite unexpectedly in ways you would never expect and initially seem inappropriate. Yet it always works. And despite the ballads you can tell that this is a band that likes to rock out.

Occasionally they take it further than is needed, venturing a little too far into kitsch, such as Gonna Party which is sung in English and features a hip hop breakdown and squalling guitar solo and the band telling us that they’re gonna party like they’ve ‘never partied before.’ But when you’re travelling this close to the sun you’re gonna get burned occasionally. And to be fair it’s this kitchness that makes the song great.

Iwantja are doing something really different in Indigenous music. Their stylistic schizophrenia, the frequent desire to explode into guitar driven rockouts no matter how tender the song, and their general exuberance all contribute to what is a fascinating debut album.


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