Djalu’ Gurruwiwi – Fixing a Hole

Djalu Gurruwiwi Fixing a Hole

Back in 1999, Djalu’ blew my mind with his ridiculously simple fix for a knothole in a new, in-progress yidaki. Maybe he did this all the time. I’m not sure. I never happened to see it again. I present the photos here online for the first time, in their full, highly-compressed, 640×480 1999 digital camera quality.

Djalu’ found a particularly good yidaki, so sat down to work on it right there in the bush. Here he is carving away the bark and outer layers with a draw knife.

Djalu making a yidaki

Whoops! It’s hard to see, but in the yellowish area, Djalu’ exposed a knothole as he carved down the wood. To the right of the instrument in this photo, he is carving a small wedge of wood out of the trimmings.

Djalu carving a didgeridoo

Next, he hammered that little wedge into the hole (with the not often recommended technique of holding a knife blade and hammering with the handle).

Djalu fixing a yidaki

He switched to an axe. That’s better.

Djalu fixes a didjeridu

The result: a non-leaky yidaki with a protrusion.

Djalu Gurruwiwi, yidaki craftsman

Then, he simply sawed off the protrusion with the blade right against the yidaki.

Djalu Gurruwiwi, yidaki master

Voila. Knothole filled. Good as new. The instrument was finished, glued, painted, and sold to one of you out there who has no idea that this ever happened.

Djalu just can't be stopped

There you go. Djalu’ Gurruwiwi, yidaki master with all the cool tricks.

Djalu Gurruwiwi

You can see some more photos from that and the following day on the antiquated website about my first visit to Arnhem Land at https://gingerroot.com/oztrip/yirrkala/yidaki/index.htm.

Yidaki of the Month #7, January 2018, a Bad Yidaki

I’ve shown you some really amazing yidaki over the past few months. How about a bad yidaki for a change?

Stats:
Bb drone • D first trumpeted note
165cm long • 4.5cm mouthpiece (interior, before wax) • 10cm bell (largest part of exterior)

PREVIOUS YIDAKI OF THE MONTH:
#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
#6, December 2017, by Buwathay Munyarryun

Yidaki of the Month #3, September 2017: by Djalu Gurruwiwi

Yidaki of the Month by Djalu

Yidaki of the Month by Djalu Gurruwiwi

Djalu’ Gurruwiwi made this yidaki in August 1999. I helped in between taking pictures for my website documenting my first visit to Australia. I’ll repeat of few of those old photos in higher resolution here. I don’t have video of any Yolŋu playing this yidaki like I did of the last Yidaki of the Month. Instead I have about 40 minutes of audio of Djalu’ playing it. Apart from a couple of excerpts in Yiḏakiwuy Dhäwu Miwatjŋurunydja and a few Mulka Project videos, these recordings have only been heard by a few of my friends.

Stats:

  • key of D with E first trumpeted note
  • length 155cm
  • mouthpiece approximately 3.2cm
  • distal end approximately 9cm

Yidaki mouthpiece
Mouthpiece, sugarbag added.

Yidaki bottom
The distal end.

And now, the “making of” photos. In the finest digital photo quality 1999 had to offer!

stringybark eucalyptus forest
Heading out into the stringybark forest near Gove airport one fine day in August, 1999. Djalu’ is tapping this tree with the head of his axe to listen for the resonance of a hollow tree.
Djalu can not tell a lie. He chopped down the stringybark tree.
The tree falls. This isn’t our Yiḏaki of the Month, but it’s from the right day and I love this photo too much.
Djalu works the yidaki mouthpiece
A little clearing in the mouthpiece end.
Djalu working on the yidaki
And in the bottom end.
Djalu plays the yidaki
One last play before loading up in his old 4WD. Yolŋu love this first part of discovering new yiḏaki. This was one of two that day that Djalu’ loved so much, he almost finished them on the spot.
Djalu plays the yidaki on tape
Djalu’ plays on his back porch for my old DAT recorder (RIP).

I’ll post more below, but let’s listen to just one bit now, shall we? His rapid alternation of drone and trumpet notes totally mystified me back then, so this has always been my go-to demo of how amazing the old man’s playing is. An excerpt of this track appears on the Yiḏakiwuy Dhäwu How to Play: The Trumpet Note page, but I’ll include the full three minutes here. He plays a few renditions and provides the “mouth sounds,” or teaching pneumonics. This yidaki part normally accompanies song and dance about monsoonal rains.

yidaki drying
The yiḏaki in question, at left, drying after a coating of glue.
yidaki painting
Painting is a family affair. Djalu’ and a sister paint other instruments while his wife Dopiya (right) paints our Yiḏaki of the Month.
yidaki painted
The three yiḏaki I brought home from my first visit. Paint drying the night before we chucked them into a plane hold wrapped in a sheet!

Confession. While the Yiḏaki of the Month was Djalu’s clear favorite of the three, I couldn’t get along with it for many years. I preferred the black one at the right. It had a tighter top section, more back pressure, and a larger interval between the drone and trumpeted note. I didn’t know how to play trumpet notes with any subtlety back then. I almost always pushed too hard, with too tight a lip, and overshot the trumpet note on Djalu’s favored yidaki of the batch. Yet he demonstrated hitting it with such ease in the piece you heard above. I struggled to play along with his recordings and learn, but just couldn’t connect with the yellow yidaki. I always used the black one to demonstrate what I had learned of Yolŋu style, right up to when I moved to Arnhem Land.

your didjeridu companion
The black one graced the covers of all my instructional CDs and appeared on the retroflexed tonguing exercises.

These yidaki all stayed in the USA while I lived in Arnhem Land. After living for five years near Djalu’ and developing my playing style and lip with his and other Yolŋu players’ influence, guess what? I now very much prefer the yellow one. Young Yolŋu probably would prefer the black one with its higher back pressure. I guess I’m an old man like Djalu’ now, preferring mid-level back pressure and a slightly more open bore.

Here are a few more recordings of Djalu’ playing it.

Guḏurrku – Brolga

Mutjalanydjal – Dolphin

Milika – Moonfish

Baṉumbirr – Morning Star

Marrpaṉ – Flatback Turtle

Garrtjambal – Red Kangaroo

Bärra’ – West Wind

Yirdaki, Yiḏaki, Yidaki, Yiragi. Let’s call the whole thing off.

Yirdaki Yidaki Yiḏaki Yiragi

Shall we look at the exciting topic of SPELLING?

Have you ever wondered why are there so many different spellings of the main Yolŋu word for “didgeridoo?” Or should that be “didjeridu?” “Didgeridu?” “Didjeridoo?” And now we’re off the rails already.

Get back to the point. That’s not even the word we’re talking about.

OK. The reason it’s hard to standardize the spelling of the Yolŋu word is simple. It’s not an English word. It contains one particular sound that we do not make in English – the retroflexed [d].

retroflexed tonguing

To produce the sound, touch the tip of your tongue to the back of the alveolar ridge – that bump behind your top teeth – and then say a [d]. Don’t push way back to the roof of your mouth. Just touch the edge of that ridge. When you say a “normal” [d], the tip of your tongue touches just behind the teeth. For the Yolŋu retroflexed [d], you move the tip of the tongue back about a centimeter. For North American English-speakers like me, Spanish-speakers, 18th century pirates, and many others, your tongue is curled back the same amount as to say the letter [r], but you move the tip of your tongue straight up until you touch the ridge to make it a modified [d] instead. That’s it. Yolŋu do the same with the letters [l], [n] and [t].

Since we don’t make that sound in our languages, we don’t have a way to write it. When we just write “yidaki,” we’re ignoring the issue and letting readers think of the [d] they know.  Which, honestly, is fine most of the time. “Yiḏaki” and “yirdaki” use [ḏ] and [rd] as code to indicate the retroflexed position, but they only work for readers who know the code.  Let’s look at that.

Yidaki

Since Beulah Lowe’s pioneering work to document Yolŋu languages at Milingimbi mission in the 1950s, underlining the consonant [d], [l], [n] or [t] has been the standard way to write retroflexed letters in these languages. It’s what all the Yolŋu I know do. It’s in their educational materials and on signs around town. To me, this is the best way. As I said, it just doesn’t mean anything to you until you know the code. Now you know.

Yirdaki

Some academics have used the [rd], [rl], [rn], [rt] convention to indicate the retroflexed tongue in Aboriginal languages. Once again, it is a code that works for readers who know the code. It makes sense because, as we’ve seen, the retroflexed [d] uses a curled tongue like an [r], but you touch the gum ridge to make a harder consonant. Moving into that position from a vowel sounds ALMOST like you’re saying an [r] first.  Yolŋu languages never use a separate “rd” sound like in the English word, “card.” You simply won’t see those letters together in Yolŋu words. So using [rd] to indicate the retroflex does not create any confusion – again, IF readers know the code.

I don’t use “yirdaki” for one simple reason. The vast majority of readers do not know the code, and the result is often a much worse mispronunciation than if it had been written as “yidaki.” I’ve often heard something like:

yerDOCKey

Although some people have learned that Yolŋu emphasize the first syllable of words and say:

YERdockey

These have way too much [r] sound in them. We’ll hear some Yolŋu for comparison at the end. They will sound ALMOST like they’re saying an [r], but it’s much less pronounced and much quicker.

Yiragi, Yiraki, etc.

If you read old books by early missionaries and anthropologists, you’ve probably seen variations like these. I’ve seen them on lists of indigenous names of the didgeridoo. They’re not different names – just early attempts by outsiders to write “yiḏaki” before much study had been done on the language. So, to be brief, don’t use them and don’t worry about them!

Recommendation

I choose to use “yidaki” whenever possible and “yidaki” when typing on a device that makes underlining difficult or impossible. While “yirdaki” works for people who know the code, that is a tiny portion of the world’s population, so I don’t think it’s a good choice for use on the internet. People don’t know the code behind “yidaki” either, but at least it doesn’t make them say “yerdockey.” Hopefully it makes them pause and be curious, or better yet to go research it. By using only known “English” letters, “yirdaki,” on the other hand, can give the false impression that it communicates a full and proper pronunciation of the word.

Whatever you choose, at least now you understand why the confusion of a choice exists.

One More thing – CAPITALIZATION

Many people like to capitalize “Yidaki.” They consider it a special name for a special object and feel that this shows it more respect. This is not technically correct. “Yiḏaki” is not a proper noun. It is the general word for the musical instrument, just like “guitar” or “violin.”  If we capitalize “yiḏaki, ” we should also capitalize other Yolŋu nouns like their words for “spear,” or “food.” It would get ridiculous. When it comes to more specific types of yiḏaki, like Dhaḏalal and Djuŋgirriny, then yes, those are proper nouns and are capitalized. They are to yidaki what Stratocasters and Les Pauls are to guitars. Make sense?

OK.

I hope this clears up any confusion and can serve as a reference for the future. Let’s wrap up by listening to a bunch of Yolŋu People from nine different clans say “yiḏaki,” shall we? Note that like any people of any culture anywhere, all Yolŋu don’t pronounce words the same as all other Yolŋu and individuals don’t always pronounce any given word exactly the same every time. I find the variation in the hardness and relative [r]-ness of the [ḏ] in these clips interesting.

YOLŊU PEOPLE ARE WARNED: This video contains several deceased people from the Djapu, Wangurri, Dhaḻwaŋu and Gumatj clans.