The Aboriginal cultures of people groups around the world are both fascinating and intriguing. The aboriginal culture of Australia is no exception to this rule. This is particularly true of the music of Aboriginal Australians. The purpose of this discussion is to explore the music of the Aboriginal people of Australia.
History of Aboriginal Music
According to a book entitled Aratjara: Aboriginal Culture and Literature in Australia, the 1950’s saw serious in depth research into the music of Aboriginal Australians. The author explains that there differences between the Aboriginal music of the western desert and the aboriginal music that is dominant in central and northern Australia. These differences can be found in melody, musical style, instruments and rhythm (Riemenschneider & Davis). As such, many who have researched Aboriginal music and culture believe that it should be divided into two groups along the Tropic of Capricorn (Riemenschneider & Davis). As such distinctions can be made when comparing the Aboriginal music of the desert to music in Northern or Central Australia.
The author also explains that regardless of the distinctions that can be made between aboriginal music in different parts of the country, there are many similarities. For instance,
Australian Aboriginal music is primarily and essentially vocal. Most of the songs are believed to have been propagated by spirits, and there are only a few whose words do not have some sacred connotation. They narrate the history and the laws of the tribe. Many Aboriginal Myths are told in Song, not as prose narratives. Form the point-of-view of ownership north Australian songs have been as cult-, clan-, and individually-owned (Riemenschneider & Davis).
The authors further explain that clan songs are usually song openly for the purpose of entertainment alone. However cult songs are inclusive of songs for rain making, love magic and love stopping. The cult songs are meant for the purposes of either healing r harming. The authors assert that these songs are extremely powerful and only those individuals that have been initiated are allowed to sing them. In addition, individually owned songs were songs that were song by certain individuals and often were believed to possess more power when song by a particular individual.
According to an internet article entitled “Australia Aboriginal Music,” the music of aboriginal people is very much tied to their ancestors. To understand the music one must have some understanding of aboriginal beliefs. For instance regardless of the region in which they reside Aboriginal people of Australia hold to the belief that during “The Dreaming” or when time began, the earth was flat and no landmarks could be seen (“Australia Aboriginal Music”). However, as time went on animals came from the earth and they could will themselves to change into humans whenever they pleased (“Australia Aboriginal Music”).
These animals are viewed as the original ancestors and it is believed that they are responsible for forging all of the landscape in the places in which they lived (“Australia Aboriginal Music”). In addition these ancestors were responsible for populating the area in which they lived. With this being understood these ancestors are also believed to be responsible for establishing the rule by which people should live (“Australia Aboriginal Music”).
The article explains further that aboriginal songs are most often sung in a series which contains several verses. Each verse is designed to tell the story of a certain event or location related to an ancestor (“Australia Aboriginal Music”). Additionally some songs are sung for ceremonial purposes that may be inclusive of portrayals of important event that have occurred. The article further explains that the song associated with any one totemic “line” will have the one melodic form throughout. This means, in the case of very long “lines” of songs, where the ancestor is reputed to have crossed thousands of miles of territory, that the characteristic melodic form will be found in areas with different languages and musical techniques. Because of the latter differences, an outside observer may well fail to recognise extreme sections of the one song-line as conforming to the same musical pattern, but that they do conform has been repeatedly stressed by performers and shown by a number of detailed analyses (“Australia Aboriginal Music”).”
This particular form of music or musical technique permits flexibility at times when the expression or interpretation of music differs as it pertains to the various aboriginal tribes. The article asserts that the flexibility allows the information that the music is attempting to communicate to be retained while making allowances for the changes that occur musically as it pertains to rhythm or other factors as the song is played by different tribes (“Australia Aboriginal Music”).
The article further asserts that even if someone from another tribe is visiting and cannot understand the language of the tribe, the visitor will still be able to recognize the song as a result of the structure; they will also have the ability to know the totemic line of the song. Having the ability to recognize songs regardless of the tribal group one belongs to is important and significant. The article asserts that the historical songs in particular are important because they link the past to the present.
Ceremonies also referred to as corroborees are of particular importance to Aboriginal people. The ceremonies include music and dramas that tell the story of the aboriginal people and of specific tribes. According to the Aboriginal Australia Art and Culture Centre there are different types of ceremonies that take place (“Ceremonies/Corroborees”). For instance, there are non-secret rituals that take place at night. This type of ritual includes men women and children (“Ceremonies/Corroborees”). During this ceremony the men will surround a fire and chant singing the ancient songs (“Ceremonies/Corroborees”). Such a ceremony will also include drama in which people paint their bodies and act out various myths or events that have occurred in the history of the aboriginal people (“Ceremonies/Corroborees”).
Within the context of Australlian Aboriginal music the Songman is also a very important figure. The Aboriginal Australia Art and Culture Centre explains that the songman was a person who was highly respected. This individual was responsible for writing and performing sons that provided a description of the daily lives of the aboriginal people. The Centre reports that this individual usually had many songs and they often incorporated the ancient songs of ancestors to create new songs. The Center further explains that Like the skilled didgeridoo player, the songman was often asked to perform for other groups, and was rewarded for his services. He could be noted for his voice of varying pitch, leading others in a chorus. There were specialist leaders in dancing as well. This was a central part of ceremonies and often involved miming, especially of the actions of animals. The length of these songs could last several days, weeks and even months (“The Songman”).”
It is evident that aboriginal music has deep meaning and tells a story of a people through the ages. It is also apparent that aboriginal music is culturally significant. The music can at times be sacred and at other times entertaining. In either case, the music of Aboriginal Australians is extremely interesting and includes a broad range of situations and emotions. It is also apparent that the Songman plays a very important role in providing songs that tell the story of everyday life while connecting to the past. Music seems to be a significant source of communication and a way to connect the past to the present.
As it pertains to the instruments used by Aboriginal people in Australia they are mostly utilized as accompaniment for songs. One of the most popular instruments used in Aboriginal music is the clapping stick. This is a percussive instrument that is sometimes made of Boomerangs and can also be made of two wood sticks (Riemenschneider & Davis). In some parts of Australia a hand drum made from animal Skin is used to play music. This particular drum has Papua New Guinea as its origin.
Another percussion instrument used in Aboriginal music is the uber (Riemenschneider & Davis). The uber is a hollow log that is hit with a short wooden stick. This particular instrument is only allowed to be played on sacred grounds and has some connection to fertility cults. Additionally, the uber is also symbolic and it is usually decorated with feathers or other ornaments (Riemenschneider & Davis). Hand and thigh clapping is also common in Aboriginal Music.
The most well-known type of Aboriginal instrument is the Didjeridu also spelled Didgeridoo. Seen below, this instrument is a type of trumpet made from a hollowed out tree trunk or even a branch. The sound of the instrument is produced by way of circular breathing. Circular breathing involves rhythmic pulsation that is maintained by pronouncing unvoiced syllables into the instrument. The sound of the instrument can be altered by changing the position of the mouth or the lips.
Other instruments include reed or bone whistles and folded leaf whistles (Aboriginal Musical Instruments). In addition, Llpirra or trumpet this instrument is used in Central Australia. Women also engage in Lap slapping (Aboriginal Musical Instruments). Additionally rasp of friction is used as an instrument in Aboriginal Music in addition to rattles made from seeds (Aboriginal Musical Instruments).
The research demonstrates that the instruments used by Aboriginal Australians are mainly percussive in their nature. In addition the Didgeridoo is used as a type of horn or trumpet. These instruments aid in the telling of the history of the Aboriginal people. In addition, instruments such as the uber, are used for special purposes.
This research paper has provided a broad view of Aboriginal music and its purpose amongst the Aboriginal people of Australia. The purpose of this discussion was to research the music of the Aboriginal people of Australia. The research found that aboriginal music has significant meaning and tells a story of a people throughout history. The investigation demonstrated that aboriginal music is extremely important to Aboriginal Australians regardless of which tribe they belong to. At times the music is sacred and at other times entertaining. Regardless of the form the music is presented, it is a fascinating art form and is inclusive of many events and emotions.
The research also found that corroborees are essential and include both music and dramatic performances.
It is also apparent that in Aboriginal society, the Songman is vital in telling the story of everyday life while connecting to the past. Music seems to be a significant source of communication and a way to connect the past to the present.
The research also found that the instruments used by Aboriginal Australians are mostly percussion instruments. These percussive instruments include drums, sticks and the clapping of various parts of the body.
In addition the Didgeridoo is used as a type of horn or trumpet. There are also various types of whistles that are used. The types of instruments that are used amongst Aboriginal Australians differ depending on the region of Australia and the tribe. All of the instruments that are utilized assist the aboriginal people in the telling their history to the next generation. Overall it is apparent that music serves as an anchor for the aboriginal people by connecting them to their past while moving forward in the present.
Aborignal Musical Instruments. Aboriginal Australia Art and Culture Centre.
30 April, 2008 http://aboriginalart.com.au/didgeridoo/instruments.html
Australia Aboriginal Music. 30 April, 2008 http://www.janesoceania.com/australian_aboriginal_music/index1.htm
Ceremonies/Corroborees.” Aboriginal Australia Art and Culture Centre. 30 April, 2008 http://aboriginalart.com.au/didgeridoo/ceremony.html
Riemenschneider Dieter, Geoffrey V. Davis. Aratjara: Aboriginal Culture and Literature in Australia. 1997.
Rodopi. Book Online 30 April, 2008 http://books.google.com/books?id=R5v_356ONRsC&pg=PA225&dq=Aboriginal+music&sig=4c8T95AyqMM8WsLFQHX5X0HYxXY#PPA227,M1
The Songman.” Aboriginal Australia Art and Culture Centre 30 April, 2008 http://aboriginalart.com.au/didgeridoo/songman.html
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