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Galarrwuy Yunupingu Gobulu

Gurritjiri Gurruwiwi Waluka - Rain

Djalu Gurruwiwi Djalu teaches and plays yidaki

Mungayana Nhundhirribala Nundhibbibala

All titles published by Yothu Yindi Foundation (www.yothuyindi.com)

Within the last couple of decades, the didjeridu has made remarkable inroads into all manner of music, showing up on tracks from Irish ceili bands to American contradance orchestras. Indeed, there is a danger of the instrument being seen as a "novelty" addition to other styles. Thus, we need to be reminded that the didjeridu is an integral part of the songs and lives of the aboriginal people of Australia. These four CDs clearly help to situate the instrument within the rich cultural traditions of the original people from northeastern Australia, from Arnhem Land. They have been developed and distributed by the Yothu Yindi Foundation, which was established as a non-profit charity in 1991 as a way to support and disseminate Yolngu knowledge and culture. As you may suspect, the Australian worldbeat band Yothu Yindi is heavily involved in this project.

cd cover Galarrwuy Yunupingu, from Australia's Arnhem Land, is an elder and a ceremonial leader of the Gumatj clan. He is also the founding chair of the Yothu Yindi Foundation, the first Chair of the Northern Land Council and the recipient of "Australian of the Year" in 1978. A "Gobulu" refers to a grave (or the mound of earth on a grave), and volume 1 of this series features a song cycle related to the making and covering of a grave including the raising of the mast or flag and the appropriate respect for the occasion. Although, in one sense the songs are original, Galarrwuy does not claim ownership over them as they belong to a tradition that he is passing on. As he states: "The copyright belongs to the land. My song cannot be mine because it belongs to everybody." While the sounds are traditional (Galarrwuy's vocals and Malnay Yunupingu on yidaki/didjeridu), some of the lyrics speak of rather contemporary concerns like alcohol and litter.

In volume 2 of the series, Gurritjiri Gurruwiwi offers 21 traditional landscapes through his singing (and the yidaki/didjeridu of Djalu Gurruwiwi). The music seeks to describe the changes in the sea during rain, wind, calm, low and high tide. It traces vignettes of the dolphin, oyster catcher, magpie geese and crested tern, and meditates on the nature of the clouds. Except for one track about the Yolnu people, the songs are about the sea and air and the creatures within these two spheres. The marine-oriented traditional songs are from the Gälpu Clan of Arnhem Land. The CD ends, fittingly, with a track of the sound of rain, distant thunder and the rhythmic surf.

Volume 3 of the set gives us a chance to listen in on some instruction on the didjeridu. Djalu Gurruwiwi is sitting down with two of his sons (Larrtyjanna and Barrnyulnyul), giving them some pointers and passing on some of the intricacies of the traditional rhythms. For those of us who do not speak Dhanu, the liner notes provide some clues on what is happening on the tracks. For example, Djalu may get Larrtyjanna to first sing a particular rhythm using his nose, mouth and tongue and then it is played on the instrument. Over 20 rhythms are introduced and illustrated on the 99 (generally short, but often remarkable) tracks. The rhythms can refer to spirit people or elements of nature (such as the current in a sea) or particular animals and birds. This CD has an instructional feel, and it is one that novice didjeridu players may find to be quite useful. In addition, by taking the songs apart and singing the didjeridu parts, it is easier for the uninitiated to understand how the instrument is played by layering one's breathing, mouth rhythms and tonguing.

The fifth volume of the set (thus far) features 75 short tracks which provide more pictures of the land, sea and wildlife, this time from the Nundhirribala clan of east Arnhem Land. This includes a 37-minute (and 48-track) song cycle from the Dreaming Time, a story of the unification of the Wurindi people. The music celebrates the everyday sights and sounds of the people (including one track dedicated to the "Aeroplane"). The material is sung by Mungayana Nundhirribala, with Yadu Numamurdirdi on Ihambilgbilg/yidaki/didjeridu.

For all of these disks, one might ask "who is the potential audience?" Certainly they are serious works of cultural preservation, and as such will attract the attention of those with an ethnomusicology or anthropology bent. But those who are simply interested in knowing more about the didjeridu in its own context will also be assisted by these recordings. Make no mistake, these are not strictly didjeridu recordings, but examples of traditional songs which use that instrument as a backdrop. Those who wish to learn more about playing the instrument may wish to focus on volume 3 of the series. In all of the CDs, there is some description (in English) about the tracks in the liner notes. - Ivan Emke

Available from the Yothu Yindi Foundation: www.yothuyindi.com

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