Deline Briscoe‘s tremendously original Wawu reminds me of the first time I listened to Somesh Mathur’s Time Stood Still. Both times I was headed down south to visit with Scot Hull in Maryland, and I loaded up a dozen or so review CDs for the trip. When Somesh Mathur’s album came up in the rotation, it stayed there for the rest of the trip. It was such an unexpectedly great CD, one that borrowed from several genres to create a sound that, for me, was enormously satisfying. A year later we have Deline Briscoe making the road trip, thrown in with about five or six new releases from female jazz singers, and once the CD loaded into the player I kept asking myself, is this the right CD?
I listened to Deline Briscoe’s CD all the way through, and then I listened again. It’s not jazz, although there are times when it’s clear her band–drummer Airileke Ingram, bassist Robbie Finch, pianist Stephen Maxwell, trumpeter Paul Coyle and clarinet/sax player Phil Bywater–are playing one type of jazz or another. Once Briscoe’s deep and soulful voice kicks in, so full of emotion, everything sounds more like modern R&B with a heavy dose of soul. Then you listen to Briscoe’s spoken word sections and you hear it–is that an Aussie accent? It’s actually more than that.
Deline Briscoe is from Cairns, way up in the north of Queensland, and she is Yalanji. Some of the songs on Wawu are indeed sung in Yalanji as well as English. That gives this album an unexpected dimension, an increased depth, especially when you learn that Briscoe is singing about four generations of women in her family, from her daughter to her grandmother. She sings about the “stolen generation,” when the Yalanji were routinely taken away from their families by police, and she sings about creation and nature and protecting the land for the future generations.
What makes Wawu so satisfying and groundbreaking is that Deline Briscoe isn’t making world music, and she isn’t making jazz. Outwardly this album does sound like an R&B album, but not a garden variety R&B album. Wawu sounds like the kind of album a woman singer makes when she’s become a huge and influential artist and can do anything she wants–this is a bolt of lightning straight from her heart. It reminds me of such adventurous albums as Beyonce’s Lemonade or sister Solange‘s A Seat at the Table or everything Janelle Monae has ever done. The liner notes suggest The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill as an influence, and that’s spot on as well. This is like nothing else. This is new.
Deline Briscoe and Wawu are still in my car CD player. I can’t stop listening. It’s late in 2019, but this is one of the best things I’ve heard. Highly recommended.