Years ago, when the Gypsy Kings got big on the international circuit, there was a rumour that the mainly Spanish flamenco band had gone out and spent their royalty cheques on up-to-the-minute synthesizers. Whether or not this little tale is true, it does pack an admonitory sting in its tale. Which is why it’s refreshing to get a band like Nabarlek plugging in and going for the rock route. Which isn’t to say that Bininj Manborlh, their début album, is divorced from their indigenous culture. The CD (it translates as ‘Blackfella Road’) is every bit as connected to traditional roots as, say, Yothu Yindi are in their music. Rather, the six-piece mix up a riot of ska, reggae and the best of bar-room rock with tribal songlines and song themes that honour ancient wisdom and stories with modern advice. It’s a refreshing approach, as innovative even as Archie Roach, and presents Nabarlek as a blistering live band. The blend of electronic beats and spirited vocals on ‘Najorrkon’ (Rock Possum) lines up a set that takes strength from well-crafted melodies and a harmonic base that’s sweetly airy.
The most powerful song isn’t to be found in the exuberant images of a small boy playing in the rain or two old ladies watching two sisters dance, but the choral valedictory that closes the album. ‘Bobo’ (Good-bye) is a complicated leave-taking that’s considered and delicate. Bininj Manborlh may be a party album but it’s got serious intent.Louise Gray