The song of the Australian Aboriginals

The song of the Australian Aboriginals

The song of the Australian Aboriginals

by September 20, 2017

The indigenous, nomadic Australian Aboriginals date back  40 000 years ago. Indigenous music in Australia uses the environment itself to generate unique sounds and rhythms.

Their musical instruments came into world prominence because of the popularity of the didjeridu, both as a tourism item and a musical instrument.  Their traditional influences have contributed significantly to defining the Australian music scene

Over the years it was used by various artists like Kate Bush (The Dreaming), Chris Brooks from New Zealand hard rock band, Like a Storm, and the acid jazz band Jamiroquai with Wallis Buchanan playing the didgeridoo.

A member of Yothu Yindi, an aboriginal rock band from Australia. Credit: Pinterest.

A member of Yothu Yindi, an aboriginal rock band from Australia. Credit: Pinterest.

The Didgeridoo

The Didgeridoo is a special wind instrument, ingeniously developed over the last 1500 years by the indigenous Australians of Northern Australia. The Aboriginals also developed the boomerang.

The didjeridu is a simple wooden tube blown like a trumpet.  It is the same as bamboo trumpets and even bronze horns from other cultures. The didgeridoo is formed when a branch of a tree, naturally hollow. It is further hollowed out by nesting termites (white ants). The Aboriginals cut these branches to a suitable length, approximately 1.5m. The bark is taken off and the ends trimmed. It may be painted or left undecorated. A rim of beeswax may be applied to the mouthpiece end. It is to provide a constant drone on a deep note, somewhere between D flat and G below the bass clef. A variety of rhythmic patterns and accents is achieved by the use of the tongue and the cheeks.

Other Traditional Aboriginal instruments

Other instruments, used in aboriginal music, is the bullroarer and the gumleaf.

  • The bullroarer is a wooden slat, 30-40cm long and 5-7cm wide that is whirled around in a circle on the end of a cord. This action generates a pulsating sound that is an important feature of Aboriginal initiation ceremonies.
  • The gumleaf simply is a leaf held against the lips using the fingers of both hands. It is used to imitate bird sound.
  • Boomerang clapsticks or wooden sticks were used as percussion instruments by clashing it together Handclapping, rasp and rattles with the percussion drum added to the idiophones.
  • The skindrum- a single –headed hour glass shaped drum was used as the membrophane. The head was made from lizard or goanna skin.
Some of the traditional instruments of the Aboriginals

Some of the traditional instruments of the Aboriginals. Credit: Right Now.

Music as a form of teaching

The Aboriginals, being purely of oral tradition, used music throughout life to teach culture, about their place in it and its place in the world of nature and supernature.

Young children were encouraged to dance and sing about everyday tasks. The first karma songs were taught during puberty- totemic plants and animals of the clan and the history and mythology which belong to his or her lineage. It is the karma songs that are the central part of his education and his source of strength in times of trouble. His maturity can be measured in the esoteric knowledge he has acquired through sound and as an old man. He knows that his honour is based partly on his mastery of the secret sacred songs of the band.