I love telling people this story, mostly so I can say the following sentence. This is the only yidaki I ever bought because I didn’t like it.
Early in 2004, Milkay and I scheduled our first meeting to work on the Hard Tongue Didgeridoo CD. He recently sold a batch of yidaki to us at Buku-Ḻarrŋgay Mulka. When he met me there, I showed him my favorite of the bunch and suggested that he use it to teach me. He played it very briefly then dismissed it. He chose another one. One that I could barely even play, due to its tight mouthpiece and very high back pressure for a lower-pitched yidaki. Milkay declared that it had “good balance.” I didn’t understand.
After that first lesson, it went back into the available stock at Buku-Ḻarrŋgay. I decided I better practice on it until it sold, to try and figure out why it was good to him but practically unplayable for me. My lip control improved over a few weeks of picking it up and playing for just a minute at a time here and there throughout my work day. After about a month, nobody bought it from Buku’s website, so I decided I simply had to buy it for myself. I still have it and love it, although I admit it’s still not the easiest for me to play.
We went on to use it for the trumpet exercises and cover images of the CD. So I trust all of you have seen and heard this one already.
Stats: drone – right on the edge of D and D# • first trumpeted note – F 150cm long • 2.8cm mouthpiece (interior average) • 8.6cm bell (largest part of exterior)
Here’s the maker playing it.
Djalu’ taking his turn.
Interestingly, Djalu’ commented that this yidaki has the same deep and powerful sound as his own, but that he didn’t like the higher back pressure. He spotted it right away as the sound of an older man, but the playing qualities that younger Yolŋu go for.
Here’s another one of those younger Yolŋu players, the late Mirrwatŋa Munyarryun. He and a few of his family at Dhalinybuy all agreed this was a good “bass yidaki” suitable for ceremonial use.
Lastly, here’s when I played it as part of my “Didjeridu of the Day” series on Instagram.
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.
Stats: E drone • F first trumpeted note 159cm long • 2.8cm mouthpiece • 9.2cm bell
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.
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.
This gorgeous Yidaki of the Month is one of the first instruments I bought upon moving to Yirrkala in 2004.
Eb drone • Gb first trumpeted note
155cm long • 3cm mouthpiece • 14cm bell
Badikupa Gurruwiwi crafted this yidaki. For those of you who don’t know much about Yolŋu people but recognize the name Gurruwiwi, yes, he’s related to Djalu’. In fact, Djalu’ calls Badikupa his father. By our reckoning, it would be “uncle.” Badikupa is a younger brother from another mother of Djalu’s father Monyu. In the Yolŋu world, you refer to all your father’s brothers as fathers, so although Badikupa and Djalu are close in age, they are technically father and son. Djakanŋu Yunupiŋu, maker of The First Yidaki I Ever Saw, was for many years Badikupa’s wife and crafting partner.
Yolŋu with the name Gurruwiwi belong to the Gälpu clan. Every clan claims several “totems” or ceremonial connections related to land, animals, plant life and even cloud formations. The Gälpu connect deeply to the power of the storm. The monsoonal wet season brings thunder, lightning, and fertility. Badikupa adorns most of his yidaki with his trademark version of Gälpu clan miny’tji, or sacred design, related to the storm.
It’s not just a looker, but a player, too. The recently deceased yidaki maker and player D#1 Wunuŋmurra called it “the master key.” He felt it could be played in any style. Djalu’ agreed that it had the depth and power of a Gälpu clan Djuŋgirriny’ but the lightness of both weight and tone to make it playable for any every day ceremony. Here’s Djalu’ playing it. He starts with the song of the west wind, which is appropriate for a Djuŋgirriny’, then moves on to a dolphin song – more of an every day yidaki piece.
The late Milkay Munuŋgurr agreed that it is a good yidaki suitable for general use. He plays it here.
And I played it recently as part of my “Didjeridu of the Day” series on Instagram.
OK, that’s it. No big conclusions from this one. Just a look and listen at a fine yidaki and a little insight into Yolŋu kinship and identity. I’ll go further into the symbology of Gälpu clan art later when I feature an instrument in my collection painted by Djalu’ & Baḏikupa’s cousin Djul’djul Gurruwiwi.
I’ve been stalling on this feature this month, hesitating about doing what I really wanted to. This is a non-commercial site, but I’m going to feature a yidaki for sale on my commercial site at www.gingerroot.com/catalog/yidaki.htm. It’s a great instrument that I shouldn’t still have available after a few months. It was made by Burrŋupurrŋu Wunuŋmurra, whose life was interrupted by leukemia this past year. Check out my tribute to him in an earlier blog post. My old colleague Jeremy Cloake launched a fundraising campaign to help support Burrŋupurrŋu. When this instrument sells, I’ll send another US$100 to that campaign on top of the cut Burrnŋupurrŋu and his wife Djul’djul Gurruwiwi already got.
The rumor is that young yidaki maker Dhapa Ganambarr assisted Burrŋupurrŋu on this one. I believe it from the mouthpiece, which leans more towards Dhapa’s style. Djul’djul provided a fantastic painting as always, this time featuring ganguri, the Dhuwa yam. The leafy vine runs most of the length of the instrument, with the edible tuber at the bottom. As usual, she uses traditional, natural paints of ochre and clay.
Eb drone • Ab first trumpeted note
140cm long • 9cm bell • 3.5cm mouthpiece
Here’s my original demo video for the instrument:
And here’s my more recent 1-minute “Didjeridu of the Day” post on Instagram.
The price is $850 plus shipping. Heck, I’ll make it $800 if you mention “yidaki of the month.” Contact me HERE if you’re interested. I’d love to get this to a good home and get some more funds to Burrŋupurrŋu and Djul’djul.
I promise a more informative and historic yidaki of the month in November!
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.
key of D with E first trumpeted note
mouthpiece approximately 3.2cm
distal end approximately 9cm
And now, the “making of” photos. In the finest digital photo quality 1999 had to offer!
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.
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.
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.
Keeping with last month’s tribute to him on the 10th anniversary of his passing, this month’s featured yidaki was made by the late Milkay Munuŋgurr in 2005. Here he is playing it in 2006.
He found this yidaki while doing his ranger duties, clearing roads after a cyclone that took a heavy toll on the region in early 2005. Mr. Munuŋgurr couldn’t help but notice the potential yidaki among the fallen trees. I believe he made two from what he found post-cyclone.
He originally intended to sell this elsewhere along with a few others, but asked me what I thought about the lot first. A couple were really great, with this at the top of the list. I raved about it but told him his hole patching wouldn’t fly. It’s normal to come across knot holes in the wood while carving down a yidaki. He used epoxy to cover up these holes, leaving visible white lumps on the otherwise natural wood instruments.
I said, “c’mon, you’ve got to at least paint over these patches.” I raved about this instrument, anyway, and told him if he could make more like it, I’d buy them all day, any day for top dollar at the Yirrkala art centre.
He came back a week later with this instrument painted. He told me that since I liked it so much, it was for me. And I’ll always keep it.
This little cyclone-power yidaki got used a lot over the next few years. We used it for the pictures on his instructional CD, Hard Tongue Didgeridoo instead of the actual instrument used on the CD which was made by someone else. If this yidaki existed at the time of recording, I’m sure he would have chosen it instead.
We took it to festivals and workshops. I loaned it out for ceremony if I was there to keep an eye on it. I had a collection of 8 yidaki that I showed to different payers and elders to get comments for my master’s project, and this was always the favorite of younger players like the late Mr. Munyarryun in this clip.
After he played all the yidaki, I asked him to pick a favorite, tell me why, and show off on it for a bit. Unfortunately, my camera battery ran out just then and I only have a few seconds of that. I’m glad I at least have the above simple clip.
Djakapurra and Mirarra also participated in that project and loved this instrument.
It was used on the first three Mulkay Manikay Archives CDs that I recorded at Dhalinybuy, Yilpara and Gurrumuru. I brought a couple of options, but the players and singers always settled on this yidaki for the majority of the recording. Here’s a clip from the Gurrumuru session which I’ve posted before.
And here is young Arnold Djunbiya Marika playing it at Dhalinbuy with some of the youngest songmen you’ll ever see.
Incidentally, I have a sealed set of those first three CDs. If you want them, contact me. You can also buy downloads from all the usual online suspects. Here are links to Amazon: Gurrumuru – Dhalinybuy – Yilpara. Several more were recorded and released after my time there as well. I’ll write another post about that series later on.
Most elders said that this yidaki is a potential ceremonial instrument called Dhaḏalal. In this clip, slightly extended from what appears on elsewhere on this site, Djalu’ plays the yidaki, taps it a bit and then says, “Guḻkuḻa,” referring to the birthplace of the Dhaḏalal for his mother’s Gumatj clan.
Oddly enough, its maker disagreed. To him and the younger players I showed it to, it’s a perfect “lead yidaki” suitable for any clan song. Yolŋu today use rock and roll terms and talk about, lead, rhythm or bass yidaki. Despite older museum examples and what many elders said, Mr. Munuŋgurr, who played Dhaḏalal ceremonially countless times, preferred a deeper yidaki with a fuller trumpet note, like the one he’s pictured with here. He chose that one for the trumpet note exercises on his instructional CD. But that’s for a future Yidaki of the Month episode.
Nevertheless, I used this little cyclone-power yidaki semi-formally as a Dhaḏalal, myself. The annual Garma Festival takes place at the origin of the Dhaḏalal at Guḻkuḻa. The Yirrkala art center’s Gapaṉ Gallery traditionally opens at the festival with Mr. Munuŋgurr’s mother and her sisters doing a small bit of that ceremony, performing ritual mourning, or milkarri. Crying songs. Garma 2007 was just a few weeks after his passing. I figured they’d need a yidaki for that gallery opening ceremony. I brought this one out and showed it to his mother and asked if she’d like that one to be used. She cried briefly, hugged me and asked me to play it. So as dark fell that night, I played the ceremonial dups, triggering the beginning of the ritual crying of his mother and her sisters, obviously in a more real and heartfelt way than usual.
It then had a little break out of the public eye, then continued to be a popular loaner. Yolŋu men often saw the craftsman’s signature and pointed it out to others. This little yidaki continued to get respect on behalf of its maker who earned it.
People often ask me about the yiḏaki in my collection. Therefore, I bring you the first YiḏakiStory vlog and the first in a new series: Yiḏaki of the Month.
Made circa 1992 by Djakanŋu Yunupiŋu, best known to worldwide yiḏaki players and fans of Yolŋu culture as sister to Mandawuy Yunupiŋu and wife of Baḏikupa Gurruwiwi, Djalu’s father’s younger brother. Deep and warm C#. First owned by the late Mike LeBien, a dear friend and co-founder of my label Ginger Root Records.
Future editions of Yiḏaki of the Month will feature footage of Yolŋu players on the instrument when I have it.
I will record in my studio in the future. I tried to go the easy way and film in my live-sounding living room with an iPad, but clearly I need to capture the sound better. Next time!