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David Blanasi (born c. 1930, disappeared 2001) was an Aboriginal man of the Mayali language group who is recognised for popularising the didgeridoo beyond the shores of Australia. This can be attributed to Blanasi's first television appearance in London in 1967, where he gave didgeridoo playing demonstrations for the popular Rolf Harris Show. Musical collaborations and tours with Rolf Harris followed, in addition to Australian and international outings as part of a traditional dance troupe which variously included Djoli Laiwanga - a talented Aboriginal songman, and David Gulpilil - an Aboriginal dancer and actor. Blanasi is best known for playing his Bambu atop the Sydney Opera House during opening ceremonies.
Blanasi (a corruption of his Aboriginal name Bylanadji), first came to public attention as one of a number of traditional Aboriginal didgeridoo players and songmen recorded in 1961-62 by a US linguistic researcher Dr. La Mont West. These recordings were released commercially in 1963 on a LP record Arnhem Land Popular Classics.
Blanasi is acknowledged as one of the great master mago (didgeridoo) players of the 20th century and as a master instrument maker his didgeridoos have become highly collectible. He lived in south-central Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, Australia, in a remote Aboriginal settlement variously known as Beswick also known as Wugularr and nearby Bamyili known as Barunga.
Blanasi first experimented with the didgeridoo at an early age, imitating the sounds of various animals. The two animals he portrayed included the Brolga. These two animals represented the moieties of his Clan. He told me, while playing his Bambu, he was 'praying' to his grandmother and grandfather. This was a revelation. I saw women at Bamyili making didjeridoos personally. David simply played them. His father later taught him further, as well as the traditional methods of making musical instruments. Young Blanasi was known for always carrying his mago as he and his family wandered the Arnhem Land around Kundirri. (Comment: The Blanasis, so far as I could discover were happy residents of Bamyili, and not nomadic wanderers. He developed a reputation as a virtuoso player of traditional Gunborg or Gunborrk syncopation.
Blanasi traveled extensively over a period of thirty years (including tours to England and Mexico) and in 1967 he became the first full-blooded indigenous Australian to travel to England since 1792. He later co-founded the "White Cockatoo Performing Group" in conjunction with his lifelong music partner, songmaster Djoli Laiwonga. He taught the Australian-born entertainer Rolf Harris how to play the didgeridoo, Harris becoming perhaps the first notable non-Aboriginal Australian to master the instrument. A later student, in the late-1970s, was 'Bambu-man' Ian MacFarlane, an electronic musician from Victoria with two solo LP albums. Ian lived with David's family at Bamyili and interviewed him, and was photographed outdoors playing with David and Djoli. Ian was presented with a new Bambu by David who said, on parting, "Baw Baw [Goodbye], Ian, I can't see your spirit anymore".
In 1998 Djoli Laiwonga died, and an emotionally stricken Blanasi retired in solitude to a home in Bamyili. David Blanasi went missing in August, 2001, reportedly after going out to search for wood to be used in instrument making. Newspaper coverage brought the situation into the public eye, and his disappearance generated widespread speculation and a number of rumors regarding "magical" occurrences. No trace of Blanasi has been found since 2001, but a number of spiritualists have claimed to be "in touch" with him. Although his body was never found, his family eventually held a funeral ceremony for him.
1992 - Didjeridu With Charlie McMahon. Directed by Jeni Kendell and Paul Tait. Gaia Films.