Indigenous 'pop songs' travelled thousands of kilometres across Australia, research finds
Email Indigenous 'pop songs' travelled thousands of kilometres across Australia, research finds
Posted November 04, 2018 09:39:58Photo: Thomas Monkey Yikapayi, Ronnie Wavehill Wirrpnga and Topsy Dodd Ngarnjal sing Wajarra (Supplied: Brenda L Croft) Related Story: Desert Feet bringing the healing power of music to remote Indigenous communities Related Story: Musician on mission to reclaim Indigenous cultural heritage through song Related Story: 'Never heard of them': Arnhem Land band to support Queens of the Stone Age Map: NT
Traditional Indigenous songs used for entertainment by the Northern Territory's Gurindji people have travelled virtually unchanged thousands of kilometres across Australia, research has revealed.
- Songs used by the Northern Territory's Gurindji people, known as Wajarra, found as far as WA
- The Wajarra found to incorporate words from several languages
- Music may have been traded between Aboriginal groups or passed on by travelling bards
The songs, known as Wajarra, have been described as the "pop songs" of the Wave Hill station era, which culminated in the 1966 walk-off and protest against poor wages and conditions.
They have been studied, recorded and documented by University of Queensland linguist Dr Felicity Meakins, and Dr Myfany Turpin, a musicologist from the University of Sydney.
"They're songs that are really about social cohesion and groups coming together and spending time with each other," Dr Meakins said.
"They're not songs that are associated with country, they're not sacred songs."
The Wajarra are still performed in the remote Northern Territory communities of Kalkaringi and Daguragu, about 800 kilometres south of Darwin.
Topsy Dodd Ngarnjal and Ronnie Wavehill Wirrpnga are the two remaining Gurindji elders with extensive knowledge of the songs.
"We're trying to teach the young boys and the young girls to dance and to know the songs," she said.
"We come together as a single group, the boys â" the girls, the children and the adults â" and we learn to sing and dance together."
Different languages reflect transient nature of music
The Wajarra use words from several languages, which reflects the origins and movements of station workers across the region during that period, according to Dr Meakins.
Their language groups include Gurindji, Bilinarra, Ngarinyman, Mudburra, Wanyjirra, Malngin, Jaru, Nyininy, Warlpiri and Western Desert.Photo: Topsy Dodd Ngarnjal (R) is passing on her knowledge of the songs to the next generation (Supplied: Brenda L Croft)
One particular song or "song set" called Laka or Wanji-wanji appears to have travelled further across Australia than any other documented song of its kind, and most likely has its origins in the Western Desert.
"As we were recording them we were thinking, this isn't Gurindji language, we don't understand what people are saying," Dr Meakins said.
The researchers found recordings of Laka that reveal it was performed on the south coast of Western Australia at Eucla in 1913, at Roebourne in the Pilbara, Port Augusta in South Australia and also in Central Australia.
"It's quite a discovery that these songs have travelled thousands of kilometres, have been passed between Aboriginal groups, perhaps in trade, perhaps by travelling bards," Dr Meakins said.
"As modern music and radios and the internet have come in they've lost their currency with younger generations, but the Gurindji actually still sing these songs which is pretty remarkable."
'Rhythmic text' identical across regions
Dr Turpin said she was surprised to find the "rhythmic text" of the Laka recordings disc overed in different regions was exactly the same.
"In our folk songs, over time and place, the song can differ quite a lot," Dr Turpin said.
"But what's so striking about the Wajarra is that the recordings we've found elsewhere of this [Laka] song are identical."Photo: Felicity Meakins and Myfany Turpin record Wajarra (Supplied: Brenda L Croft)
Ronnie Wavehill Wirrpnga learnt another song set called "Freedom Day" as a young boy and told the researchers the songs were first given to a man named Smiler Kartarta Jangala, after he rejected the advances of two spirit women.
"He was perhaps a very attractive man and two Mungamunga women were very attracted to him, but he had a real-life wife," Dr Meakins said.
"So he refused to get together with these Mungamunga women, and in anger they threw him into a fire and in doing so he received songs from them."
The Freedom Day songs are now used by the Gurindji to celebrate the anniversary of the Wave Hill walk-off each year.
Topics: indigenous-music, music, arts-and-entertainment, indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, indigenous-culture, indigenous-other-peoples, nt, darwin-0800, alice-springs-0870
Contact Felicity James
More stories from Northern TerritorySource: Google Australia | Netizen 24 Australia