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Banjo man's wild and worldly ride into 'Gothic Australiana'

Harry Jakamarra will bring his blistering banjo skills to Yamba on Sunday.
Harry Jakamarra will bring his blistering banjo skills to Yamba on Sunday.

WHAT happens when a croc skinner puts down his knife and leaves the Kimberley in his house truck, with his banjo in tow?

A chilling collection of songs that have been described as "Gothic Australiana", that's what.

Harry Jakamarra forged his songwriting, banjo and guitar skills in settings as diverse as the desert sands north of Timbuktu, the choked back streets of Varanasi on the Ganges River, and the uninhabited reaches of the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia.

Growing up in Broome WA, Harry was inspired to begin playing the guitar after seeing the Warumpi band perform. Soon after he picked up the five-string banjo and became a regular at local venues. Harry also developed a fascination with Indian classical slide-guitar and throughout his teens travelled to India to formally study with the gurus of Hindustani slide.

Back at home in the Kimberley, he was rapidly becoming a local favourite as well as garnering the esteem of touring artists. He shared the stage with John Butler, Missy Higgins and supported artists such as Paul Kelly and The Waifs.

In 2012 Harry released his impressive debut album.

Soon after he left Broome for Mali, in North Africa, to seek out the origins of the claw hammer banjo style. Mali was in a state of civil turmoil at this time due to a major Tuareg uprising.

Despite this, Harry travelled to Timbuktu to be mesmerised by such artists as Tinariwen and Vieux Farka Toure at the mysterious Festival au Desert. Gun battles raged nearby between Tuareg rebels and the Malian military and, at the end of the festival, Harry narrowly escaped with his life.

Returning to Broome Harry took a job at the local crocodile park as a full-time skinner. This gruelling job also involved chasing down and wrestling enraged escapees.

During this time Harry purchased an ex-navy fire engine and began converting it into a quirky, gypsy-style home on wheels. He currently lives and tours in this vehicle, which is completely off grid, solar powered and runs on used cooking oil.

At 23 years of age, Harry has already had a lifetime of interesting adventures. His captivating stories manifest in dark, emotionally charged songs. His powerful poetry, original voice and raw, intricate banjo and guitar sounds are exquisitely framed in his latest recording.

The sparse nature of the production makes the strength and maturity of Harry's songs very clear.

Jeff Lang as engineer/producer was a perfect match. With guest vocals from Liz Stringer, double bass by Ben Franz (The Waifs) and tasteful drumming by Harry's brother Albert these songs will have a lasting effect.

Harry's second album is set for release next year but in the meantime catch him in Yamba as part of his East Coast tour.

Topics:  banjo live music pacific hotel yamba


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