Music of a Culture: Yolngu Music
Singing and dancing is an integral part of Australian Indigenous culture, and is used in rituals/ceremonies, as oral histories and law, and in general society. Yirrkala, in Yolngu, is the home of well-known Indigenous musicians such as Yothu Yindi.
Music from this region uses song lines which often cycle downwards in pitch over a narrow range of pitch. The mandapul (didjeridu) is sometimes used to accompany these songs. Vocal sounds are sometimes incorporated to imitate for instance a bird call (information from manikay.com). Song subjects are often about clan history or family relationships.
Click here to go to more information on Yirrkala music at manikay.com
The mandapul (didjeridu) is an iconic Indigenous instrument that is made from hollowed-out tree branches. Circular breathing, vocal effects, and clap sticks are used when playing this instrument. In Yirrkala, the mandapul used to be called the yidaki, but its name was changed to mandapul following the death of a community member whose name can no longer be spoken. Here is an example of mandapul playing below:
TREATY (YOTHU YINDI)
MUSICOLOGY - Meaning in Music:
- Carefully read the information on Treaty found at Yothu Yindi's website: http://www.yothuyindi.com/music/treaty.html
- To gain further understanding behind Treaty's meaning, find information online about the Yirrkala bark petitions, 1988 Barunga festival, djatpangarri dance, and Mandawuy. Choose one of these, find a YouTube video that is associated with this and present it to the class.
- Research the didjeridu - find instructions for making one, examples of different instrumental techniques. Here is an example of a basic (crude?) craft activity.
- Use the classroom worksheets and video of Mandawuy found here. These lead students carefully through an analysis of Treaty and the context surrounding it.
AURAL - Meeting of Musical Minds:
- Listen to Treaty and analyse how a variety of musical cultures mix. Identify the Indigenous elements and the Western elements.
- Identify each member of the band and discuss the tone colour/timbre of the instruments they play.
CREATIVITY/COMPOSITION - Ostinato Patterns:
- Divide students into small groups. Ask each group to create a rhythmic ostinato that could serve as an accompaniment to Treaty. Ask the group to notate the rhythm. Have each group play their ostinato pattern on clapsticks/claves along with the recording of Treaty.
- All groups play their ostinati without an audio accompaniment as a class performance. Vary the texture by adding/subtracting groups.
PERFORMANCE - Traditions and History:
- Using the link http://www.yothuyindi.com/music/treaty.html, learn and sing the Gumatj lyrics along with the recording.
- Make a list of songs passed on orally through your own history. Research this by discussing with family members. Choose one of these and teach to the class.
Yirrkala is an Indigenous community of around 700 people. The community are well-known for their large artistic output including art (bark painting) and music. The mandapul (yidaki, didjeridu) comes from this region. Yirrkala is in the Indigenous country of Yolngu, north-eastern Arnhem Land.
About Indigenous music collections:
Most of Indigenous music is sung/danced down from generation to generation. Many of these songs are sacred and only certain members of the community can hear them. Anthropologists in the past have collected recordings of Indigenous music, though some recordings are now recognised as unethical. Today, Indigenous academics are working to ethically collect and keep songs, dances, and languages which are at risk of being lost. There are now protocols about how and when Indigenous music can be used. These are available from the Australia Council.
About Yothu Yindi:
Yothu Yindi was founded in 1986. One of its founding members was high school principal, community leader, and activist Yunupingu. Their music can be classified as Aboriginal rock music, but it contains elements of traditional Indigenous music and pop music. The band uses both traditional Indigenous instruments and Western rock instruments.
Here is an article about Yunupingu's life and legacy.