Stylin' Up

Stylin' Up

On the surface, Christine Anu’s 1995 debut album is a slice of mid-’90s commercial radio pop, powered by the feel-good “Party” and her cover of Warumpi Band’s “My Island Home” (renamed “Island Home”). On a deeper level, though, Stylin’ Up represents so much more, with Anu incorporating the language and culture of her Torres Strait Islander community into her music. “No one was doing that at the time other than Yothu Yindi,” Anu tells Apple Music. “Everything on that album isn’t just me–it’s my family, it’s everyone. It represents so much.” Recorded with My Friend the Chocolate Cake frontman David Bridie, the LP resonates with the sounds of Anu’s homeland. “Island Home” opens with a recording of the sea lapping against a boat in the passage between Thursday Island and Prince of Wales Island; Anu incorporates the language of her mother’s heritage from Saibai Island into “Monkey & the Turtle.” “Looking back, there was so much going on socially,” she says. “Eddie Mabo’s decision had just been handed down in 1992, that wonderful speech by Paul Keating in Redfern Park... So that time informed what my voice would be like, what I had to say.” Here, Anu reflects on some of the album’s key tracks. Monkey & the Turtle “‘Monkey & the Turtle’ is based on [a nursery rhyme from] the Torres Strait. The story that’s taught to children is these two friends go onto a banana plantation to steal bananas and ultimately they’re caught and they’re shot dead. It’s a really bizarre way to teach something so important to children, but I guess it’s about the idea of understanding that there are consequences to your actions. You don’t go onto other people’s land and take. That is the ultimate disrespect. Hats off to Mushroom Records for going with ‘Monkey & the Turtle’ for the first song off the album, because it’s in a language that Australia hadn’t heard before, let alone a commercial song on a radio station. Looking back, it was very groundbreaking.” Island Home “I was terrified of the song to begin with. I moved to Sydney in 1988, which was the year of the bicentenary, and there were a lot of marches and a lot of picket signs. ‘My Island Home’ was a very large part of the musical soundtrack at the time, and I guess that was when I first came across the Warumpi Band. When Neil Murray, who wrote the song in the Warumpi Band, asked if I’d be interested in singing in his solo band, I shat myself! One day at the Annandale Hotel he said, ‘I reckon you should take over singing “My Island Home,”’ and I was like, ‘What? No, I don’t want to do that. People love this song and people are very protective over what’s theirs and I’m afraid that they’re going to hate me for singing it.’ He said, ‘Look, every song is a story that exists out there and it comes through you and it belongs out there again.’ And so I just went, ‘Okay, fine.’ It became the cornerstone of the album.” Party “‘Party’ started as this song called ‘Telephone’ and the lyric was, ‘Why don’t you just dial my number?’ I had been given a massive brick phone by my then-manager, who said, ‘I need to be able to reach you wherever you are.’ Then I said to David, ‘I’ll probably have to keep singing this song when I’m 35,’ and so we quickly changed it to ‘Party’ and made the song about the community and the people who were supporting me through this really new passage in my life, and really tipping my hat to everybody who was throwing their backing behind me.” Wanem Time “‘Wanem’ is the word that is used in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Torres Strait area. ‘Wanem’ means ‘what.’ Neil was playing this riff in the back of the Annandale Hotel, and he put his pick in his mouth and asked me, ‘Christine, what’s a saying that you guys have up in the Torres Strait?’ And I said, ‘Wanem time.’ He started laughing and he completely related to that comment, because he lived in an Indigenous community and he knew everything happens when it happens. He took the comment and absolutely ran with it, and then ‘Wanem Time’ was born.” Tama Oma “‘Tama Oma’ was a song [we found] on a cassette at the Torres Strait community radio station. We ran it in a loop, and I absolutely adored it. It’s a demonstration of that cultural input on the sonic ideas of the album. That was a really massive thing for me to be able to co-write a song in my mum’s language and put that on the album.”

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