Indigenous music of Australia
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Australian Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander music includes the music of Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders. Music has formed an integral part of the social, cultural and ceremonial observances of these people, down through the millennia of their individual and collective histories to the present day, and has existed for 40,000 years. The traditional forms include many aspects of performance and musical instrumentation which are unique to particular regions or Indigenous Australian groups; there are equally elements of musical tradition which are common or widespread through much of the Australian continent, and even beyond. The culture of the Torres Strait Islanders is related to that of adjacent parts of New Guinea and so their music is also related. Music is a vital part of Indigenous Australians' cultural maintenance.
In addition to these Indigenous traditions and musical heritage, ever since the 18th-century European colonisation of Australia began Indigenous Australian musicians and performers have adopted and interpreted many of the imported Western musical styles, often informed by and in combination with traditional instruments and sensibilities. Similarly, non-Indigenous artists and performers have adapted, used and sampled Indigenous Australian styles and instruments in their works. Contemporary musical styles such as rock and roll, country, rap and reggae have all featured a variety of notable Indigenous Australian performers.
A didgeridoo is a type of musical instrument that, according to western musicological classification, falls into the category of aerophone. It is one of the oldest instruments to date. It consists of a long tube, without finger holes, through which the player blows. It is sometimes fitted with a mouthpiece of beeswax. Didgeridoos are traditionally made of eucalyptus, but contemporary materials such as PVC piping are used. In traditional situations it is played only by men, usually as an accompaniment to ceremonial or recreational singing, or, much more rarely, as a solo instrument. Skilled players use the technique of circular breathing to achieve a continuous sound, and also employ techniques for inducing multiple harmonic resonances. Although traditionally the instrument was not widespread around the country - it was only used by Aboriginal groups in the most northerly areas - today it is commonly considered the national instrument of the Australian Aborigines and is world-renowned as a unique and iconic instrument. Famous players include Djalu Gurruwiwi, Mark Atkins, William Barton, David Hudson, Joe Geia and Shane Underwood as well as white virtuoso Charlie McMahon.
A clapstick is a type of musical instrument that, according to western musicological classification, falls into the category of percussion. Unlike drumsticks, which are generally used to strike a drum, clapsticks are intended for striking one stick on another, and people as well. They are of oval shape with paintings of snakes, lizards, birds and more.
Bunggul is a style of music that originated around the Mann River in central Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. This style is known for its intense lyrics, often stories of epic journeys, which continue or repeat, unaccompanied, after the music has stopped.
Clan songs and songlines
A particular clan in Aboriginal culture may share songs, known variously as emeba (Groote Eylandt), fjatpangarri (Yirrkala), manikay (Arnhem Land) or different terms in other Aboriginal languages. These songs are about clan or family history and are frequently updated to take into account popular films and music, controversies and social relationships.
Songlines — called Yiri in the Warlpiri language, and other terms — relate to the Dreamtime, using oral lore and storytelling manifested as an intricate series of song cycles that identify landmarks and tracking mechanisms for navigation. These songs often describe how the features of the land were created and named during the Dreamtime. By singing the songs in the appropriate order, Indigenous Australians could navigate vast distances, often travelling through the deserts of Australia's interior. They relate the holder or the keeper of the song or Dreamtime story with an inherent obligation and reciprocity with the land.
Kun-borrk originated around the Adelaide, Mann and Rose Rivers, distinguished by a didgeridoo introduction followed by percussion and vocals. These often include words, in contrast to many other syllabic styles of Aboriginal singing.
Wangga originated near the South Alligator River. An extremely high note starts the song, accompanied by rhythmic percussion, followed by a sudden shift to a low tone. Wangga is typically performed by one or two singers with clapsticks and one didgeridoo player. The occasion is usually a circumcision ceremony or a ceremony to purify a dead person's belongings with smoke.
A number of Indigenous Australians have achieved mainstream prominence, such as Jimmy Little (pop), Yothu Yindi (Australian aboriginal rock), Troy Cassar-Daley (country), NoKTuRNL (rap metal) and the Warumpi Band (alternative or world music). Indigenous music has also gained broad exposure through the world music movement and in particular the WOMADelaide festivals. Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, formerly of Yothu Yindi, attained international success singing contemporary music in English and in the language of the Yolngu.
Contemporary Indigenous music continues the earlier traditions and also represents a fusion with contemporary mainstream styles of music, such as rock and country music. The Deadlys provide an illustration of this with rock, country, pop among the styles played. Traditional instruments such as the didjeridu and clapsticks are commonly used, giving the music a distinctive feel.
Country music has remained particularly popular among the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for decades, as documented in Clinton Walker's seminal Buried Country. Dougie Young and Jimmy Little were pioneers and Troy Cassar-Daley is among Australia's successful contemporary Indigenous performers of country music. Aboriginal artists Kev Carmody and Archie Roach employ a combination of folk-rock and country music to sing about Aboriginal rights issues, using the song type called barnt[further explanation needed]. The documentary, book and soundtrack Buried Country showcases significant Indigenous musicians from the 1940s to the 1990s.
In 1997 the State and Federal Governments set up the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts (ACPA) as an elite National Institute to preserve and nurture aboriginal music and talent across all styles and genres from traditional to contemporary.
- 3KND community radio station, streaming on the internet and broadcasting in Melbourne and in Brisbane.
- Aboriginal rock
- Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association
- Indigenous Australian hip hop
- Stompen Ground, Broome
- Deadly Awards
- Vibe Australia
- Buried Country
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- Clinton Walker. Buried Country: The Story of Aboriginal Country Music.
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- Manikay.Com - For the promotion and enjoyment of traditional Arnhem Land music.
- Blacklist.org.au - Dedicated to promoting and sharing the music and culture of Indigenous Australia.
- Traditional music of the Torres Strait - audio and video highlights from the archives of the celebrated Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) . Released by Skinnyfish music - recorded in 1960 and 1961, with the support of the Department of Anthropology, Australian National University. (Commercial link).
- CAAMA Music Myspace - For the promotion and enjoyment of Indigenous Music under the CAAMA Music Label. (Commercial link).
- Wilurarra Creative, Music Development Western Desert Australia
- Australian Music Office - Australian Government organisation aimed at promoting export initiatives for Australian artists and music companies
- Listen to an excerpt of Indigenous tribal music from the Yirrkala district in far north-east Arnhem Land, recorded by AP Elkin on australianscreen online