Did Yer Re-do Yer Didjeridu?
The didjeridu first gained popularity in the west in the ‘60’s, when Rolf Harris featured it on his long running TV show in the UK. Harris had an enormous hit in 1959 with "Tie Me Kangaroo Down" and his shows at the time reached substantial audiences.
In the intervening forty years, more and more recording artists have made use of the didjeridu. Its earthy drone can be heard on tunes by Charlie McMahon, John Williamson, Jimmy Barnes, British funk-rockers - Jamiroquai and, of course, Goanna (whose big hit - "Solid Rock" - brought Land Rights issues along with the didj sound, onto the pop scene). But these musicians are white and like this country, the didj has a ‘black’ history.
Just as Aboriginal people in different parts of Australia call themselves by different names, (e.g. Yolngu, Koori, Murri and Nunga), so the didjeridu is known variously as yidaki, gunbarrk and bambu. Usually made from termite-hollowed limbs of Stringy Bark, Woollybutt and Bloodwood trees, the didj originated in the Top End, most likely in northeast Arnhem Land.
According to musician and writer, John
Bowden, it has been part of Aboriginal life for 2000 years, and
today is an icon of Australian culture, both as an instrument and
as a work of art.
" within the hollow section of the instrument a spiritual snake lives, which inhibits the sound. Leaves of a specific tree are burnt and as the smoke enters and leaves via the hollow, it is beaten with small branches of the same tree. Thus the snake is driven out."
In successful efforts to ‘re-du’ the definition of Australian music, Yothu Yindi, Blek Bela Mujik, Warumpi Band and Wild Water are just a few of the Territory’s myriad of Aboriginal rock groups, which make the didj an integral part of their contemporary sound.
However it also remains a vital
ingredient in traditional ceremonies, particularly funerals. Many
musicians, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, have taken up the
didj, and it is very popular in Europe, America and Japan.