Yidaki of the Month #6, December 2017, by Buwathay Munyarryun

Yidaki of the Month by Buwathay

Buwathay Munyarryun, a Wangurri clan leader from Dhalinybuy, crafted this month’s featured yidaki in 2006. It’s warm and bassy, but still crisp. It has a nice, resonant trumpeted note. It is light weight despite having good bass and power. All in all, it’s a fantastic stick. Let’s give the late, great Milkay Munuŋgurr the first play.

Yidaki by Buwathay Munyarryun

E drone • F first trumpeted note
159cm long • 2.8cm mouthpiece • 9.2cm bell

Yidaki by Buwathay - mouthpiece

Djalu’ plays it here. This clip has been on our YouTube channel for a while.

The next video, however, is new. It shows what happened immediately before the above clip. Djalu’ and I were playing and discussing all the yidaki I collected during my first two years living in northeast Arnhem Land. He of course could play everything but didn’t prefer all the tight, high pressure and high-pitched instruments made by the hot young players of the day. Buwathay’s yidaki, on the other hand, has just the right depth, warmth and mid-level back pressure that Djalu’ likes. You will see him compare it to his own favorite yidaki of the moment. As he says in the video, it allows him to breath naturally. He often advocates for instruments like this, claiming that playing them is better for your health.

When I later asked him to play for a closeup, so we could see and hear him breathe while he played, Djalu’ asked to play Buwathay’s yidaki again. This clip also appears in The Dhäwu at http://yidakistory.com/dhawu/playing-the-didjeriduyidaki/breathing/.

Now we turn the mic over to the artist, himself. In 2006, I sat with Buwathay, Ŋoŋu, the late Mirrwatŋa and the late Mathuḻu, discussing yidaki and interaction between the Yolŋu and outside worlds. In the midst of a discussion of what kind of stories to share with didgeridoo players around the world, Buwathay suddenly pointed to this yidaki he made and gave a simple, surface level but true story of its meaning.

In the next video, Buwathay’s younger brother, the late Mirrwatŋa, plays the yidaki and then everyone briefly discusses how good it is. It is usable for any ceremony. Most interestingly, Buwathay himself points out what Djalu’ did. Even though this is a thin-walled, light weight instrument, it has the same characteristics as Djalu’s normally heavier instruments. It has the sound of what Yolŋu nowadays call a “bass yiḏaki.”

You can also hear this yiḏaki on a few tracks of the Yilpara CD, which I’ll blog about soon.

Last, I’ll let you hear a white guy play it. Here I am a couple of months ago, playing this one as part of my “Didjeridu of the Day” series on Instagram.

#1, July 2017, by Djakanŋu Yunupiŋu
#2, August 2017, by Milkayŋu Munuŋgurr
#3, September 2017, by Djalu’ Gurruwiwi
#4, October 2017, by Burrŋupurrŋu Wunuŋmurra
#5, November 2017, by Baḏikupa Gurruwiwi

Ever Hear This Yidaki Technique? Murrkundi

Yidaki Technique - Murrkundi
Land of the Morning Star
cover image borrowed from manikay.com

Here’s an unusual yidaki technique you may not have heard. First, we’ll listen to a track from Sandra Le Brun Holmes’ album Land of the Morning Star. She recorded the player “Mudpo” at Milingimbi in 1962. I’d have to check again with Yolŋu friends back in Arnhem Land, but something in the back of my mind says he was a Gälpu clansman. I could be mixing this up with another field recording from Galiwin’ku, though, so a correction would be welcome if anyone out there can provide it. The track is labelled “Murrkundi (the Little Black Bird).”

Yes, you’re hearing right. “Mudpo” is making a little nasal squeak sound on top of normal yidaki technique.

A. P. Elkin caught a more extreme, squeakier version of the technique for his 1953 recording Tribal Music of Australia.

Tribal Music of Australia
cover image borrowed from manikay.com

Elkin’s liner notes say:

“the accompaniment for the dance and song of a small bird, called ‘moi kandi’. It has a high squeak which the Puller reproduces at the same time as he blows his didjeridu.”

“Puller” was a term used for didjeridu players by many anthropologists and presumably northern Aboriginal People in the 1950s and 60s, but the term has fallen out of use. I didn’t make a study of the term while I lived in Yirrkala, but the few young Yolŋu I asked about the word looked at me like I was crazy.

Unfortunately, neither Holmes nor Elkin recorded the full song so that we could hear this technique in context, nor did they detail what clan(s) sing it.  I never put much time into the issue, but asked some Yolŋu about “murrkundi.” Only a few older yidaki specialists, Djalu’ Gurruwiwi and the recently deceased Datjirri #1 Wunuŋmurra, said they were familiar with the technique. Both had health conditions that made the sound more difficult for them to produce, but gave me a brief demo. Unfortunately, neither were keen to have it filmed. So you just get a quick clip of me.

Now you. As Dr. Ed Harkins, who inspired me to start playing didjeridu, used to say, “this is the kind of thing you should be doing.”

If anybody out there has more information on this subject, please let me know and I’ll post an update.