OZ Info #5


DIDGERIDOO - Traditional Music


Music song and dance was and is still today a very important part of Aboriginal life and customs. We had songs for every occasion, hunting songs, funeral songs, gossip songs and songs of ancestors, landscapes, animals, seasons, myths and

Dreamtime legends.

Different tribes used various instruments including boomerangs, clubs, sticks, hollow logs, drums, seed rattles and of course the didgeridoo. Hand clapping and lap/thigh slapping were common. Decorated drums were made from hollow logs and some covered with reptile skins. Large conch

shells were used in the northern coastal areas. The best known of all Aboriginal musical instruments was the didgeridoo.

A song is sung as a series comprising many short verses, each of which tells about a particular event or place associated with the ancestor; or the performance may be a full ceremonial one which includes portrayal of relevant events in the performance of dances accompanied by the

singing of the appropriate verses.

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.

A song man was highly regarded. He was a special performer who composed songs to describe day-to-day events. His extensive repertoire could be enriched by songs handed down from ancestors. Like the skilled didgeridoo player, the song man 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.

Dancing styles varied throughout the hundreds of tribal groups. Dancing was done with set arm, body and foot movements with a lot of foot stamping. Today this is called "shake a leg ".The best dancers and singers enjoyed wide reputations and high respect.
Dances often imitated animals or birds. Serious ritual or sacred dancing was quite distinct from light hearted camp dancing that men, women and children could share.