Let’s listen to some Djaṯpaŋarri. It’s a kind of Yolŋu music and dance which, according to ethnomusicologist Dr. Alice M. Moyle, Gumatj clansman Dhambudjawa invented in the early to mid 20th century. The style was mostly popular with young men during Moyle’s visit in 1962-3, but as those men grew up, djaṯpaŋarri became popular with all ages. In short, it’s characterized by casual, often modern subjects, fun dances, and a more mellow and repetitive yidaki style than most Yolŋu ceremonial music. Because of that last factor, some inexperienced listeners mistake northeast Arnhem Land djaṯpaŋarri for western Arnhem Land music. Newer djaṯpaŋarri usually mentions, or seemingly addresses, young men by their SKIN NAME.
We’re going to listen to three variations on the same song subject from different decades. In the liner notes for Songs from the Northern Territory vol. 3, Moyle writes:
This ‘Comic’ Djatpangarri sung by Minydjun (b. 1944) originated as the result of a Disney film cartoon seen by Yolngu people at one of the air bases during the Second World War. Donald Duck is the subject of the associated dance.
The second and third versions below will be familiar to long time yidaki aficionados, but this first one is a rarity. Dr. Richard A. Waterman recorded Roy Ḏaḏayŋa (Rirratjiŋu clan) and Rrikin (Gumatj) singing ‘Comic’ with Djinini (Djambarrpuyŋu) on yidaki in 1952. Notice that Roy & Rrikin don’t sing anything other than the word “comic.” This stresses the importance of djaṯpaŋarri as a dance music. This isn’t the most intricate poetry you’ll ever hear.
Here’s Minydjun (with an uncredited yidaki player), recorded at Milingimbi in 1962. This version adds the word djaṯpaŋarri itself and other word fragments common to the style. Milingimbi is near the western edge of Yolŋu country. You’ll notice that the yidaki has more influence of western Arnhem Land playing than the other two “Comics.”
Here’s Galarrwuy with his late nephew Milkay Munuŋgurr on yidaki from the 1992 Yothu Yindi album Tribal Voice. Note that he’s got more of the style of Roy & Rrikin, with the sung yidaki part and short wordless notes. He however adds the skin name references often heard in djaṯpaŋarri songs. And of course, Milkay brings his “hard tongue” to the table.
On Yothu Yindi’s hit Treaty also from Tribal Voice, they mix djaṯpaŋarri with pop & rock music. While you may have just known that bit as “the traditional part,” it’s not serious manikay you would hear in ceremony, but this simple, fun, public song. Listen carefully and you’ll hear that the second word you hear in the first Yolŋu language part around 0:50 is in fact djaṯpaŋarri. You’ll also hear the fragment djaṯpa a few times in the song. Mandawuy also sings a reference to a boy’s skin name and a call out to all the young men.
Note that you can find the second track above on the must-have landmark set of recordings Songs from the Northern Territory from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies HERE. The 5-disc set contains an invaluable survey of music of the Top End from 1962-3, including lots of incredible didjeridu. Yothu Yindi’s music doesn’t seem to be on iTunes and Amazon and CD’s are getting hard to come by. Search for used copies your favorite way. The first track above, from 1952, has never been commercially released.
In January and February, I wrote about the first two albums I recorded for what became the Mulka Manikay Archives CD series; Dhalinybuy and Gurrumuru. In both posts, I provided some of the documentation that my Yolŋu colleagues and I created, including statements from the senior singers involved. Very little of that work was done for the last recording, Yilpara, before I suddenly had to leave Yirrkala. To complete this series on the three Mulka Manikay CD’s I recorded, let’s get some insight from relevant art documented in the book Saltwater: Yirrkala Bark Paintings of Sea Country.
In the late 1990’s, 47 Yolŋu artists created a suite of 80 bark paintings reflecting their knowledge of and connection to the sea. The people of northeast Arnhem Land started the first Australian land rights case in the early 1970’s. It was time for sea rights. Long story short, this lead to a 2008 High Court ruling which handed ownership of the intertidal zone to Aboriginal People on a large portion of the Northern Territory coast.
The Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney acquired the entire collection back in 2000, and is displaying half of it now until February 2019. If you happen to be in the area, CHECK IT OUT. The ANMM’s webpage about the exhibition features this video of Djambawa Marawili, accompanied by an excerpt from his singing on the Yilpara CD. If you’ve been through the Yidakiwuy Dhäwu, you’ve heard him say similar things already.
If you’ve studied this website, you may also remember the concept of the five dimensions of Rom. Wäŋa (Land), Gurruṯu (Kinship), Dhäwu (Stories), Miny’tji (Art) and Manikay (Songs). Yolŋu understand and express life through all these dimensions. Therefore, we can get insight into the songs on the Yilpara CD from stories told in paintings.
We’ll stick with Djambawa at first. His painting Gurtha at Dhakalmayi is described in Saltwater like this:
Yathikpa is an important site for the Maḏarrpa as it was here that first came to the shores of north-east Arnhem Land for the first time. Bäru, the Ancestral Crocodile power tote for the Maḏarrpa clan is strongly associated with the first fire.
Two Ancestral beings, Burrak and Munumiŋa, took to the sea in their dugout canoe from this Blue Mud Bay coastline of Yathikpa to hunt. Djambawa has depicted them under shelter preparing to go to sea.
Once offshore and upon seeing a dugong, they pursued it. In this area of saltwater was another sacred site of fire – a submerged rock surrounded by turbulent and dangerous water. It was here at Dhakalmayi that the dugong took shelter to escape the hunters. When the hunters flung their harpoon towards the dugong, hence the rock, they enraged the powers that be, causing these dangerous waters to boil with the sacred fires underneath. The canoe capsized, drowning and burning the Ancestral Hunters with their canoe and hunting paraphernalia. The harpoon, rope, paddles and canoe are sung at ceremony and manifestations of these objects are used as restricted secret sacred objects in ceremony today.
Djunuŋgayaŋu, dugongs, are associated with this site, attracted by sandy sea beds that grow the sea grass called Gamaṯa on which they graze. In this painting Djunuŋgayaŋu is at this site around Dhakalmayi. The cross-hatched design is the sacred clan design for the Maḏarrpa representing saltwater and fire here and is a manifestation of the sacred waters and Gamaṯa waving like flames below its surface.
Here’s Yathikpa by Marrirra Marawili, the senior man on the Yilpara CD, which provides more clues to the inclusion of the Bäru (Crocodile) and Dhupuntji (Log) tracks.
The open-ended strings of diamonds mark the classic miny’tji of the saltwater estate of Yathikpa. Here Bäru the ancestral crocodile, carrying and being burnt by the Ancestral fire, crossed the beach from Garraŋali and entered the saltwater. After his burns were soothed, Bäru decided that he would stay in these waters. His sacred powers and those of fire imbue the water there today.
Later from the same beach the Ancestral Hunters took their hunting harpoon and canoe out to the sea of Yathikpa in pursuit of the dugong. The hunters were lured too close to a dangerous rock by the dugong seeking shelter. At this sacred site fire spouted and boiled the water, capsizing the canoe. The sacred harpoon changed into Dhakandjali (YS: or Dhupundji) the hollow log coffin that floats on the seas of Yathikpa and further afield within Blue Mud Bay. It travels along the coast connecting other clans (Maŋgalili, Dhaḻwaŋu and Munyuku).
Neither of these provide you a strict narrative lining up perfectly with the track listing on the CD, but you can see the connections and understand a little of the context. To be too brief, you can look at the tracks about various fish and birds and the animals both seen by the Yolŋu, and who themselves witnessed the events of the story.
The album ends with Waŋupini, thunderclouds rising over the sea. I wish I had all the photos I took the day of the recording, but they’re all on a drive somewhere in Yirrkala. As the songs were sung, the clouds gathered on the horizon over Blue Mud Bay. I took photos on the spot that Djambawa indicated would be the album cover (reminiscent of the original Dhalinybuy cover idea). Instead, I’ll close out this post with a detail of another of his Saltwater paintings, one supervised by his late father Wakuthi. The anvil shape at center is how the Maḏarrpa clan paint their characteristic thundercloud.
This has been a very simple look at some of the Maḏarrpa clan art and story which is expressed much more deeply on the Yilpara CD. If you can find a copy of Saltwater: Yirrkala Bark Paintings of Sea Country for yourself, you will be blown away by the depth of Yolŋu knowledge of and connection to the land, and the beauty of their visual expression of said knowledge and connection. Grab a copy of that book and the CD as part of your journey of understanding the culture that brought us the yiḏaki.
Last month, I gave you a mother lode of information about the Mulka Project’s Dhalinybuy CD. Documentation for the other titles I recorded wasn’t so far along when I suddenly had to leave Yirrkala, but I’ll provide you what I can to try and fulfill the original educational goal of these CDs. This month, Gurrumuru.
We recorded at the Dhaḻwaŋu clan homeland of Gurrumuru on 28 September 2007. Once again, it was a road trip from Yirrkala with a stash of food, basic recording gear, the original young Mulka staff Ḏiṉḏirrk Munuŋgurr and Ṉuwaniny Burarrwaŋa and this time Buku-Ḻarrŋgay staff member Balwaltja Munuŋgurr, who wanted to see the process and visit family at Gurrumuru. Dhaḻwaŋu clan leaders Yumutjin and Warralka Wunuŋmurra sang while their gäthu, or nephew by non-Yolŋu thinking, Wambuna played yidaki (a yidaki you can hear more of HERE).
We had one little mishap that day and the external hard drive used for the recording took a tumble. It seemed fine, but died completely shortly after the trip while I was trying to back it up. Fortunately, I already made a rough mix for the artists. That rough mix had to serve as the final mix. At least on this CD, there was no hard work to be done mixing it!
We recorded Yumutjin telling the story of the songs before I left Yirrkala, but we didn’t finish transcribing or translating it. My knowledge of the Dhaḻwaŋu Dhay’yi language and the high level ceremonial words Yumutjin used isn’t sufficient for me to do it on my own now. Instead of pestering some Yolŋu to help for free long distance, I’ll summarize as best I can.
The songs tell of Birrinydji, or Ḻiya-Yiki, the knife warrior. Some say he was a Macassan, one of the sailors from modern day Sulawesi in Indonesia who came to Arnhem Land hundreds of years before Europeans arrived. Some say he was something else. Macassans didn’t normally venture as far inland as Gurrumuru. Maybe he was one of the Bayini, a group shrouded in myth who arrived before the Macassans. Maybe he was something else. Some historians believe Chinese sailors visited the Arnhem Land coast first. In either case, the songs of Gurrumuru and Birrinydji include introduced material culture such as knives, tobacco, playing cards, and rice.
To paraphrase Yumutjin:
This is how we sing the land at Gurrumuru. We sing of the warriors of the knife at Gurrumuru. Of the preparation of the place for the spirit we call Ḻiya-Yiki.
They followed the path, came to this place and prepared the land, clearing the brush. Making the place clean. This is the place they and we belong.
He spotted a special tree and went to sit in its shade to look over the clearing. He fell asleep and dreamed of the place. When he awoke, he smoked tobacco from his long pipe. It is a special smoke given to the people of Gurrumuru. Then he got up and began playing and singing. (YidakiStory side note: he plays the djoling, often translated either as ‘mouth harp’ or ‘flute’. I suspect it is not a coincidence that Indonesians have a bamboo flute called suling, and that Yolŋu don’t have an ‘s’ in their language).
From there, he went to find money and started playing cards with the other men. There is tension among them. He goes and gets alcohol and drinks. As he gets drunk, he gets more wild. He gets his knife and begins an aggressive dance. The red calico flags of Gurrumuru are raised.
Meanwhile, rice is being cooked. Some is stirred in the pot and some is tossed into the clearing. All the leftovers are thrown out to the clearing. The jungle fowl Djiḻawurr emerges, stamps its feet in the rice and calls out. It announces to other birds and by extension the humans that the north wind is coming, clearing the air and the land.
As Djiḻawurr cries out, the sun sets, casting spectacular colours of red and yellow in the clouds.
I’ve posted this several times before but here again is a video clip from near the end of the recording session.
Much of Yumutjin’s telling included lists of ‘power names’ for places, people and objects. I don’t feel comfortable including them here without his oversight even though he recorded the statement for the public. I might get something wrong and the specific words don’t contribute much to the story for us outsiders, anyway.
I don’t want to overstep any other bounds, but I’ll say that Djiḻawurr’s calls are often said to be announcements of death and the raising of flags is part of mortuary ceremony. It’s probably safe to assume that Birrinydji’s drunken aggression with his knife was his undoing, and that this story establishes Dhaḻwaŋu funeral practices. That’s all I’ll say about that.
A couple of years later, the Mulka Project worked with Yumutjin and others at Gurrumuru to create a short film of the dance for a small part of this song cycle. You can get a little more context and see the quick version of the story as told here:
I hope this helps you appreciate that CD or download you’ve got a little bit more and gives you another small window of insight into Yolŋu culture.
See also my post about the origins of the CD series HERE.
I’ve talked a lot about Dhalinybuy since this blog started last April, mostly in the series of posts about the short film Two Brothers at Galarra. The families of the late Mathuḻu Munyarryun embraced the creative potential of the Mulka Project’s new media facilities before other local Yolŋu. They pitched the first film idea outside of a workshop and recorded the first CD within a month of Mulka’s official launch.
On 31 August 2007, I drove out to Dhalinybuy with Mulka’s first two employees, Ḏiṉḏirrk Munŋgurr and Ṉuwaniny Burarrwaŋa, some basic recording and filming equipment, and a bunch of food. We began with the senior singers, Malalakpuy and Wakaŋ, supervised and sometimes joined by Mathuḻu, along with the late Mirrwatŋa on yidaki.
Listen to what happened from there on the CD, which is available from all the usual digital music retailers and from several yidaki sellers around the world. Here’s one sample.
After the recording, I asked Mathuḻu, “what will this CD be called? What will the album cover be?”
He only had to think for a few seconds. The title would be Baltha. Baltha, the Wangurri clan thundercloud which they sang at the beginning and end of the cycle we just recorded. He described the shape of it for me. He explained that they sang the journey of water from where we sat near the river Gularri to the sea, where it is sucked up by Baltha and rained down on the land to begin the journey again. They sing this cycle at funeral ceremony, the story of water paralleling the story of the human soul. The cover image would be a photograph of the cloud called Baltha.
While I loved the idea, I didn’t like my chances of pulling it off. I thought, “How am I supposed to get a picture of that? Call the Bureau of Meteorology and describe it to them, hoping they’ve got an archive of cloud photos?”
But I didn’t have to. Not long after the recording session, funeral ceremony was underway at Dhalinybuy. These ceremonies can last for weeks or even months. On 6 November, all of us at Yirrkala knew the funeral was wrapping up. My wife and I were out for a walk at sunset, looked in the direction of Dhalinybuy, and there it was. Baltha. Rising over the sea in Arnhem Bay. Possibly just as they were singing the end of this song cycle to conclude the ceremony.
I snapped a bunch of pictures and showed them to Mathuḻu at my next opportunity. He said, “yes, that’s it. That’s the cover.”
the old man tells the story
As I said in my prior blog post about the CD series, the late founding Mulka Project Director, Dr. Raymattja Marika, and I had big plans for the liner notes. We wanted to show up every outsider academic who published recordings of Aboriginal music. Dr. Marika sadly passed away suddenly before we finished the process on any of the three CDs we had recorded, then I suddenly had to leave Yirrkala due to my own family medical crisis. Those three CDs and several more in the end were released with simplified titles and no information other than track and artist names. I do have the recording and text of the late Mathuḻu telling the story as he wanted it in the liner notes, so will share those with you all now. The late Margaret Yunupiŋu and I did the basic transcription and translation, which was then polished with help from Dr. Marika and the late (wow, I have to say that a lot) Gulumbu Yunupiŋu.
Tracks 1-7 on the final version are archival recordings, some of which are discussed thoroughly here.
Tracks 8-12 Baltha
Ŋunha nhän ga dhäya mayali’ dharyundawu. Murrun nhän Ŋarru ga dharyun nhän ŋarru. Ŋunhan nhän ga mayali’ miyaman dhaŋuyam Baltha.
That cloud standing there shows that rain is coming. There will be thunder and rain. These songs are about the cloud called Baltha.
The cloud Baltha is forming, rising up. It begins to rain on the cycad palm leaves and the ground of the valleys. The valleys and rivers begin to flood from the rain. Murruyil the pigeon flies through the rain to get away from the storm. It fled from the rain, soaking wet, like Yolŋu People would. That’s the story.
Tracks 22-30 Murruyil (Pigeon)/Meṉḏuŋ (Snail)
Yow, ŋunha dharyuwan nhän ga manymak buṯthuwan murruyil’ dharyunda, dharyunda buṯthuwan murruyil’ djukdjukthuwan ga manymak after bayiwaḻiya murruyil’ŋuru nhän ŋätjin rirrakay’yuwan maypaḻ meṉḏuŋ yäku gunaminy.
It was raining, the pigeon flies through the rain, soaking wet, and after that, the snail gunaminy cries out.
Tracks 31-34 Ŋerrk (White Cockatoo)
Ga bayiwaḻiyam ga nhän buṯthuwan ŋerrk’nha ga ŋerrk’nha ḏurruwan ḏinguŋuru bäŋŋuru ŋayakandi dhopaṉŋuru. Nhän ḏurruwan ŋerrk, ŋarru wäyinma banha nhän wanhurr nininyŋu bawarraṉ ga dhaŋuya waŋganyma dhäwu.
From there, the white cockatoo flies away from the cycad palms, where it lives. That’s one part of the story.
Tracks 35-39 Warrkarr (Grass)
Note: Mathuḻu originally named this section Bulmirri. another name for the grass that he used in his story.
In this next part of the story, it rains, then the new shoots of grasses come out. The razor grass – the special name for that is wokara or bulmirri. Those two come out, the razor grass and the stringybark trees. New growth from the rain, the grasses come out. And the cycad palms. The old plants were burned, but when the rain comes, the new growth comes up. The new grasses and trees grow up. That’s the story.
Tracks 40-51 Gapu (Water)
Note: Mathuḻu originally called this section Guḻarri after the specific water course, rather than Gapu, which is the general word for all water.
Now we are turning our minds to another part of the story. Our minds and our tongues. The water is calming, becoming more still as it flows down river. This water (Guḻarri) has become calm. It is all the same thing, the same old song, but as it returns to our country where the fresh and salt waters meet, the melody changes.
This song is about the barramundi, we call Balin or Ratjuk. This is the very sacred song for barramundi. The faster clapsticks signify that we have reached where all the leaves and plant material washed downstream by the storm have gathered up in the still water. The barramundi is biting at the leaves and drinking the water of the bottom of the river. The mouth of the barramundi in the water called Djakurrŋa Guyuwuruyu. Ŋayawuḻuḻ, Biruyuwanan are important names for the barramundi’s mouth. Everyone eats the barramundi, just like the kingfish.
This is the song of the freshwater mullet waṯpirriya. The song of where waṯpirriya lie, splashing in the water. Where the leaves and branches are bunched up. Lying at the roots of the Yirritja pandanus. That is this song.
Tracks 70-76 Gomuḻu (Heron)
Note: Mathuḻu used another name for the heron, Gany’tjurr. Which incidentally, is one of my given Yolŋu names.
This is the song of gany’tjurr the heron. It is looking back at Baltha, towards the places Raripa, Guṉuyulumi, Marrtjinya, Baḻkpaḻk. That is what I sing. Then the bird looks down to the water, hunting for fish. We also sing to the places Muthamul, Warritja, Ŋamundjiyu, Banygarranhami. That’s this song.
This is Baltha, after singing about the bird hunting. We return to Baltha, then we are finished. The cloud is building up to Dhaliny, Gunygunya, Marrtjinya, Ŋuḻpurray, Guṉuyulumi and Baḻkpaḻk. That Baltha is building up and returning to Dha-Yurpu, Ŋamundji, Muthamul. Baltha is rising. From the heron to Dhä-Yurpu and Dhä-Wupa, the top and the bottom of the river. Singing the heron at Warritja and Muthamul.
There you go
There was meant to be more written to flesh out the context, but this has been what the senior man of the family wanted to tell all of you out in the world about what was happening in the songs. I hope that if you have the album, this brings you some new appreciation of it. If you haven’t bought it, I hope you do.
It seems odd, but yes, 1977 saw the release of a 7″ record featuring the late great Rirratjiŋu clan leader Wandjuk Marika playing solo yidaki.
From the original liner notes by Jennifer Isaacs, with modern spellings added for the titles:
(a) Dangultji (Ḏaŋgultji) – the Brolga. A secular camp dance in which the performers, particularly children, imitate the behaviour of the brolga.
(b) Malwiyi (Maḻwiya) – the Emu. A camp dance about the emu, Australia’s largest bird. It is flightless and may grow to 1.8 m in height. The Aborigines hunt them for food and relish their large green eggs.
(c) The Wawilak (Wäwilak) Story – The Wawilak myth gives rise to a most important cycle of ceremonies in North East Arnhem Land. In the Dreamtime the two Wawilak sisters, one of them pregnant, travelled over the land and finally came to rest by a lagoon where they built a shade for the birth. One of the sisters was gathering paperbark when she accidentally polluted the pool wherein dwelt the Lightning Serpent, a huge snake which could reach from the heavens to the earth. In a fury he sent a black cloud overhead, and torrential rain. The sisters cried out and danced to appease him but it was to no avail, and he swallowed them. The Wawilak sisters are the Creation Sisters – they gave rise to the present Aboriginal population.
(I) The first solo accompanies the Wawilak song which tells of the girls’ travels before they reached the pool. (II) The second solo accompanies the Wawilak song which tells of the torrential rain sent by the Lightning Serpent.
(a) The Wawilak Story (from side one).
(III) Djuwan – This accompaniment tells of the time after the Dreamtime, when the children of the Creation Sisters return to the sacred waters where the Serpent Lives and re-enact, in ceremony, the original events. The song and didjeridu accompaniment are used in mortuary and age-grading ceremonies.
(b) Kadabana (Gatapaŋa) – the Buffalo. Buffalos brought by early European settlers have run wild in the swamps and plains of Arnhem Land. This is a camp dance which describes the heavy animal crashing through the undergrowth being hunted by Aboriginal men for food.
(c) The Wawilak Story
(IV) The clouds – this segment accompanies the song which tells of the rain, and dark cloud which the Lightning Serpent sent overhead.
(d) Katjambal (Garrtjambal) – the Kangaroo. The story of the kangaroo as he bounds along the grassy plains through the scrub.
The Rest of the Liner Notes:
Wandjuk Marika is a ceremonial leader of the Riratjingu (Rirratjiŋu) clan of North East Arnhem Land and Chairman of the Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council. He was born about 1930 om what was then the small mission settlement of Yirrkala. This has since become the focal point of one of the most important struggles for ownership of land by traditional Aborigines, and the site of the huge bauxite mine, Nabalco. Wandjuk Marika and his people have been catapulted into confrontation with an industrialised society and in the process they have emerged with a great degree of strength and political and social cohesion. Traditional culture remains a vital part of life in Eastern Arnhem Land, the stories of the exploits of the ancestral beings of the Dreamtime such as the Djanggawul (Djaŋ’kawu) and the Wawilak Sisters providing the basis for lengthy ceremonial cycles involving ritual and social obligations covering every aspect of life from birth to death.
Wandjuk Marika learnt to play the didjeridu as a small boy from his father, Mawalan, who was a great and respected ceremonial leader, and who passed on to Wandjuk his knowledge of the sacred lore, the ceremonies and the sacred designs, just as Wandjuk is training his own sons today.
As well as his role in the traditional life of the Riratjingu, Wandjuk is also striving to explain the stories and create an awareness of the depth of his own culture in all Australians, through his work on the Australian Aboriginal Arts Board.
He says: “We realise the old way will never return, but we believe that much of our music, songs, dance and art can and must be preserved as a vital part of the culture of mankind.”
THE DIDJERIDU (or YIDAKI)
The didjeridu, or drone pipe, is the traditional wind instrument of the Aborigines of Northern Australia. It is in fact a branch or trunk of a young eucalyptus, or string bark tree which has been hollowed out by termites. The musician taps the tree to see if the resonance indicates it is sufficiently hollow, and then after he cuts it down, he selects a suitable length for the instrument. This is smoothed and painted, and bees wax or gum is applied to the end to be placed in the mouth. This narrows the diameter of the interior hole, and provides a comfortable mouthpiece. The length and diameter of the instrument determine its pitch and the tone produced when it is blown with loosely vibrating lips. Variations in the sound produced occur when the lips are tightened, or when the tongue is moved towards and away from the opening. The vocal chords are also used when producing a croak.
The sustained rhythm is achieved by a unique form of breathing. Air is drawn in through the nose in quick breaths. This is retained in the cheeks and continuously expelled through the mouth to maintain the sound.
The instrument is generally played as a rhythmic accompaniment to the songman and clapsticks, however, it is also played solo for camp dances and general fun and amusement.
SEMINAR ON ART IN THE THIRD WORLD
Wandjuk Marika was invited to be a guest lecturer at the Seminar on Art in the Third World at the University of Papua New Guinea in 1976, organised by the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies. Wandjuk Marika gave a lecture on Aboriginal art and music, together with a performance on the didjeridu. In addition he demonstrated the art of bark painting and opened an exhibition of Aboriginal art at the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies.
Recorded at the National Broadcasting Commission 25th February, 1976
Recorded by Frederic DUVELLE Text by Jennifer ISAACS Cover photo by Jennifer STEELE First published by LARRIKIN Records 1977
Thanks to John of manikay.com for first making me aware of this recording many years ago. Images borrowed from discogs.com. No, I do not have rights to this recording or text. But it’s long out of print, most likely never will be reprinted, and I know many of Wanjduk’s living family and bet they’d be happy to let this recording be heard as long as nobody’s selling it for a profit without them.
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.
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.
A Facebook post by Hollow Log Didgeridoos, one of the supporters of the Yiḏakiwuy Dhäwu update, nudged me to start a series I’ve been considering – features of important out-of-print didjeridu recordings. Manikay.com archives most if not all of these, but hasn’t been updated in many years and features out of date RealAudio files. So I’ll present streaming mp3s for you to hear. First up: ‘The Art of the Didjeridu.’
Trevor A. Jones must be one of the first academics to take a serious interest in the didjeridu, including learning the instrument himself. He published several papers on the subject, but we’re talking here about recordings. In 1963, he produced ‘The Art of the Didjeridu’ for Wattle Records. It features Jones demonstrating basic technique, some solo recordings he made of Arnhem Land players, and field recordings Lester and Betty Hiatt made in 1960 in and around Maningrida, north central Arnhem Land. It’s a unique release from the very early days of didjeridu recordings. A demonstration of basic technique by a non-Aboriginal player and samples of the instrument in context.
Following are excerpts from the original liner notes. I haven’t edited the spellings or added any interpretive notes based on my later experience in Arnhem Land… although it’s pretty tempting.
THE RECORDINGS USED
All the sounds heard on Side A of this record were made by Trevor Jones, who has over the past nine years taught himself to reproduce many of the sounds and rhythmic patterns used by native players of the didjeridu. He does not, however, claim to approach in virtuosity the expert aboriginal player, whose long and rigorous training from a very early age in the art of Didjeridu blowing provides him the technique that can only be weakly imitated by a white man. Breathing problems in particular preclude for the amateur the long stretches of endurance that give the native’s performances their hypnotic power and fascination. The patterns heard on Side B. band 1 (yidakistory note: our Track 06), are played by natives who are not fully professional players but who have achieved a remarkable standard nonetheless. These recordings were made by Trevor Jones in Sydney and Perth on occasions when full-blooded aborigines visited those cities for conferences of various kinds. The corroboree excerpts heard on the remainder of Side B feature professional didjeridu players who are accredited masters of their art. They were recorded in Arnhem Land in 1960 by Mr. and Mrs L. Hiatt. At that time Mr. Hiatt was carrying out anthropological research from the Australian National University, Canberra.
Track 02: Breathing Techniques
Didjeridu by Trevor Jones
Track 03: Tone Combinations
Didjeridu by Trevor Jones
Track 04: Special Effects
Didjeridu by Trevor Jones
Track 05: Characteristic Rhythmic Patterns
Didjeridu by Trevor Jones. Short examples of nine characteristic patterns: the first four (Wadamiri, Djerag, Djedbangari, Mulara) belong to the overall north-eastern style known as Bunggal, and use the larger didjeridu. The next two (Gunborg, Gunbalanya) come from the central Arnhem Land region, near the coast, and also use the larger instrument, and these are followed by two (Wongga, Nyindi-yindi) that are typical of Lira style of the west, involving the smaller tube. The final pattern (Ubar) which also makes use of the smaller didjeridu, has traits of both western and central styles.
Track 06: Solo Didjeridu Playing
Recorded by Trevor Jones in Sydney and Perth of non-fully professional players who visited these cities for conferences of various kinds. First six solos are of the north-eastern Bunggal class using the blown overtone, both staccato and “hooted”, croaked notes, and pulsating fundamental. The next two songs are Wongga songs of the western Lira style, and make use of the continuous fundamental with varied timbre and the chordal superimposition. Finally an Ubar accompaniment, first played and then chanted, using the special stylised speech devised for imitating the actual sound of the instrument.
Track 07: North Central Arnhem Land Corroboree
Track 08: North Central Arnhem Land Corroboree
Recorded by Lester & Betty Hiatt, Arnhem Land 1960. Manigai, essentially north-central in style, using the continuous accented fundamental; in addition, however, they break the continuity with the “hooted” overtone, a trait typical of songs from further east. They therefore bear traces, in their didjeridu patterns, both of the Gunborg and Gunbalanya and more particularly of the mortuary songs of the Mulara and Ngorunngapa types.
Track 09: Central Arnhem Land Corroboree
Recorded by Lester & Betty Hiatt, Arnhem Land 1960. Borog song, more decidedly central in style, being from the western side of the Blyth River, and are also similar to the Gunbalanya in their didjeridu rhythms. This one bears the unmistakable western mark of the rhythmic use of the “hummed” chord.
Track 10: Central Arnhem Land Corroboree
Recorded by Lester & Betty Hiatt, Arnhem Land 1960. This one is from the west of the Liverpool River and exhibits even more clearly than the previous, the essentially “central” use of an evenly accented continuous fundamental with whole-tone rise in pitch, as in the Gunborg type.
Track 11: Secret Ceremonial Didjeridu YidakiStory.com takes over: Sorry, I’m not going to include this track. Aboriginal People shared many things with early anthropologists that they choose not to share publicly now. They did not understand the implications of sharing with these (mostly) men who would then publish the material for countless others to see. I never played this track publicly when I lived in Yirrkala, so I won’t put it out publicly on the internet. It contains song and didjeridu from what is considered to by “inside ceremony” belonging to specific clans. It would not be shared with neighbouring Aboriginal People who were not initiated into the given ceremonial business, let alone a non-Aboriginal public.
OK, there you go. A quick look and listen of a historic didjeridu recording you may not have heard. I’ll bring you some more old tracks in the future.
This post details the origins of The Mulka Manikay Archives CD series that documents songs of several Yolŋu clans of northeast Arnhem Land. A future post will go into greater detail about one of the recordings.
You can find the albums from some didgeridoo sellers and all the usual online digital music retailers. Here’s a link to them on Amazon.com.
The Mulka Project
In 2007, Buku-Ḻarrŋgay Mulka, the art centre in the remote Australian Aboriginal community of Yirrkala, launched a new multimedia wing: The Mulka Project. Mulka refers to the centre as a holding place of Yolŋu culture. The original grant applications sought mostly to create an archive of materials made by anthropologists, missionaries and other visitors to Arnhem Land over the years, managed and made accessible to the community by Yolŋu librarians.
I luckily arrived in Yirrkala at the right time and with many of the right skills to become coordinator of this new project. Right away, I knew we needed to adjust Mulka’s charter. It wouldn’t just be an archive, but a production centre training Yolŋu to take the reigns of modern media to tell their own stories from now on. With my background as a musician and indie record label owner, it was a simple step to jump into making new audio recordings. We already started repatriating audio made decades earlier by outsiders. It was time for the community to make their own recordings of the current generation of singers.
During construction and development of the new project, the Yothu Yindi Foundation offered support including the use of their recording studio at Gunyaŋara’. Their Contemporary Masters series of CDs recorded there featured Galarrwuy Yunupiŋu, Djalu’ Gurruwiwi and more. This seemed the obvious way ahead. We would record new albums of clan song there.
Rirrakay Yirralkawuy Yirralkaŋura
The plan changed not long before the launch of the Mulka Project in mid-2007. Maḏarrpa clan leader Djambawa Marawili came in and poked around the new place just after I finished wiring our new theatre’s sound system. The voice of Galarrwuy Yunupiŋu from the Yothu Yindi Foundation CD Gobulu blared over the speakers. Djambawa listened for a moment and his face betrayed his thoughts.
I said, “so, do you want to record a CD of Maḏarrpa manikay (song)?”
“Yes, but I’m not recording in any studio. I’m doing it on my own homeland at Yilpara, looking out at my ocean.”
Done. Brilliant idea. I added a few items for remote recording to the list of necessary gear for the new centre and brought the idea to my colleagues. There were two Yolŋu Cultural Directors at that point; Wukuṉ Waṉambi and the late Dr. R. Marika. She deserves a whole blog post to herself, but to be brief, Dr. Marika had long been a key Yolŋu figure in Australian academia and Aboriginal activism. She loved the idea of recording remotely at significant locations and coined a name for the series: Rirrakay Yirralkawuy Yirralkaŋura, or “The Sound of the Homeland at the Homeland.”
After her sudden passing and my sudden departure before the release of any of the recordings, the series became TheMulka Manikay Archives, which is much easier for non-Yolŋu minds and tongues to grapple with. I do however want the record to show that the original concept and the spirit of the recordings was definitely Rirrakay Yirralkawuy Yirralkaŋura. These are documents made in remote spots of Yolŋu singing the land. Of the three recording sessions I produced, Djambawa’s demonstrated this most clearly. As he and his clansmen sung of thunderclouds gathering over the ocean off of Yilpara, we watched it happening.
listen to them
Check them out now. If you’ve listened to them before, do it again. Know this time that these recordings are different. They’re not done in studios just to sell to the public. They weren’t done for an academic as part of his or her research. They are Yolŋu sitting on their own land, feeling what they’re singing with the intention of sharing with their families and future generations. Picture yourself on the beach at Yilpara or in the middle of Dhalinybuy and get lost in it.
I’ve posted this before, but here’s a video clip from the Gurrumuru session.
the documentation that could have been
Dr. Marika, having worked in western academia and knowing many of the commercially available recordings of traditional Aboriginal music, had a chip on her shoulder that I adored. All the prior recordings of Yolŋu music included liner notes written by non-Yolŋu academics. All of them got some things right and some things wrong. Dr. Marika declared that our CDs would come with the most thorough documentation ever, telling deeper stories direct from the Yolŋu perspective for the first time. No essays by outside academics. The layout and artwork would include symbology related to the songs and ancestral connections. She wanted to show the world what comprehensive liner notes written and designed by Yolŋu intellectuals looked like.
Sadly, this idea was dropped along with her name for the series after both of us were out of the picture. All the recordings are released with just a track listing and artist information. I’m not privy to the reasoning behind the decision, but I can guess. First off, it’s less work. A LOT less. Secondly, Dr. Marika was one of few Yolŋu who knew academia and who would have read liner notes about Yolŋu music written by outsiders. Not many Yolŋu have a context for these kinds of recordings in the outside world, and certainly few if any would have that drive that Dr. Marika had to create the best liner notes ever. The vast majority of Yolŋu would be happy with a recording with no liner notes at all. Ever since the introduction of cassette tapes, Yolŋu have passed around recordings of manikay. For most of them, new technology just means better quality for the recordings that they listen to with no need for any information.
That said, I am grateful that the recordings have seen the light of day at all. The work of running Mulka is truly overwhelming. Over a year after the first recording and with two more in the can, we were just about ready to release the first CD when I suddenly had to leave Mulka and Yirrkala. I’m glad the CDs went ahead even without the work Dr. Marika and I wanted to do. It’s just a shame that they are less informative, less marketable and less significant than they could have been.
I didn’t take much with me when I left Mulka, but I do have a lot of the work that we did for what became the Dhalinybuy CD. I’ll share that in a future post so that in at least a small way, you can see some of the vision Dr. Marika had for these CDs.
Once again, the CDs are available from some didgeridoo sellers and downloads are available from Amazon, iTunes, etc. Please support the Mulka Project and get the sound of the land in your ears by buying these albums!
In late 2004, I made a trip from Yirrkala to Darwin to work with my master’s thesis supervisor at Charles Darwin University. The local ABC radio affiliate’s Leon Compton invited me to come in and talk about my project. An hour or two before the show, I ran into Yolŋu dancer, singer and yiḏaki player Djakapurra Munyarryun on the street downtown. I quickly realised that I needed to invite him to join me on the radio. They asked me to talk about my M.A. & Fulbright project about the didgeridoo. Well, the project’s aim was to collaborate with Yolŋu People to get the word out about the origins of the didgeridoo in Arnhem Land on their own terms. It seemed an obvious bit of fate that I crossed paths with Djakapurra so that this interview could also be a collaboration with Yolŋu.