Indigenous Australian music

Indigenous Australian music

and so their music is also related.

In addition to these indigenous traditions and musical heritage, ever since the 18th century European colonisation of Australia began indigenous Australian musicians and performers have adopted and interpreted many of the imported Western musical styles, often informed by and in combination with traditional instruments and sensibilities. Similarly, non-indigenous artists and performers have adapted, used and sampled indigenous Australian styles and instruments in their works. Contemporary musical styles such as rock and roll, country, hip hop, and reggae have all featured a variety of notable indigenous Australian performers.

Traditional forms and instruments


Bunggul is a style of music that came into being around the Mann River and is known for its intense lyrics, which are often stories of epic journeys and continue, or repeat, unaccompanied after the music has stopped.

Clan songs and songlines

A particular clan in Aboriginal culture may share songs, known as "emeba" (Groote Eylandt), "fjatpangarri" (Yirrkala), "manikay" (Arnhem Land) or other native terms. Songs are about clan or family history and are frequently updated to take into account popular films and music, controversies and social relationships.

Songlines ("Yiri" in the Walpiri language) relate to Dreamtime, with oral lore and storytelling manifested in an intricate series of song cycles that identified landmarks and other items and tracking (hunting) mechanisms for navigation. These songs often described how the features of the land were created and named during the Dreamtime. By singing the songs in the appropriate order, indigenous Australians could navigate vast distances often traveling through the deserts of Australia's interior. They relate the holder or the keeper of the song (or Dreamtime story) with an inherent obligation and reciprocity with the land.

Death Wail

A mourning lament recorded in a number of locations in central and northern Australia and among the Torres Strait Islanders.


Karma is a type of oral literature that tells a religious or historical story.


A didgeridoo is a type of musical instrument that, according to western musicological classification, falls into the category of aerophone. It consists of a long tube, without fingerholes, through which the player blows. It is sometimes fitted with a mouthpiece of beeswax. Didgeridoos are traditionally of eucalyptus, but are also made of contemporary materials such as PVC piping. In traditional situations it is played only by men, usually as an accompaniment to ceremonial or recreational singing, or, much more rarely, as a solo instrument. Skilled players use the technique of circular breathing to achieve a continuous sound, and also employ techniques for inducing multiple harmonic resonances. Although traditionally the instrument was not widespread around the country - it was only used by Aboriginal groups in the most northerly areas - today it is commonly considered the national instrument, not only of Australian Aborigines but of Australia in general. Famous players include Djalu Gurruwiwi, Mark Atkins and Joe Geia, as well as white virtuoso Charlie McMahon.

Krill Krill

The Krill Krill song cycle is a modern musical innovation from east Kimberley. A man named Rover Thomas claims to have discovered the ceremony in 1974 after a woman to whom he was spiritually related was killed after a car accident near Warmun. Thomas claimed to have been visited by her spirit and received the ceremony from her. In addition to the music, Thomas and others, including Hector Jandany and Queenie McKenzie, developed a critically acclaimed style of painting in sync with the development of the ceremony.


Kun-borrk came into being around the Adelaide, Mann and Rose Rivers, distinguished by a didgeridoo introduction followed by the percussion and vocals, which often conclude words (in contrast to many other syllabic styles of Aboriginal singing).


Wangga came into being near the South Alligator River and is distinguished by an extremely high note to commence the song, accompanied by rhythmic percussion and followed by a sudden shift to a low tone.

Contemporary trends

A number of Indigenous Australians have achieved mainstream prominence, such as Jimmy Little (popular), Yothu Yindi (rock), Troy Cassar-Daley (country) and NoKTuRNL (rap metal), the Warumpi Band (alternative or world music) Aboriginal music has also had broad exposure through the world music movement and in particular WOMADelaide.

Torres Strait Islander musicians include Christine Anu (popular) and Seaman Dan.

Contemporary Australian Aboriginal music continues the earlier traditions and also represents a fusion with contemporary mainstream styles of music, such as rock and country music. The Deadlys provide an illustration of this with rock, country, pop being found among the styles played. Common traditional instrumentation used are the didjeridu and clapsticks being used to give a different feel to the music.

The movie "Wrong Side of the Road" and soundtrack (1981) gave broad exposure to the bands Us Mob and No Fixed Address and highlighted Indigenous disadvantage in urban Australia.

ee also

*3KND community radio station, streaming on the internet and broadcasting in Melbourne and in Brisbane.
*Aboriginal rock
*Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association
*The Deadlys
*Stompen Ground, Broome
*Vibe Australia


Further reading

*Dunbar-Hall, P. & Gibson, C., (2004), "Deadly Sounds, Deadly Places: Contemporary Aboriginal Music in Australia", UNSW Press, ISBN 9780868406220

External links

* [ Manikay.Com] - For the promotion and enjoyment of traditional Arnhem Land music.
* [ "Traditional music of the Torres Strait"] - audio and video highlights from the archives of the celebrated Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) . Released by Skinnyfish music - recorded in 1960 and 1961, with the support of the Department of Anthropology, Australian National University. (Commercial link).
* [ CAAMA Music Myspace] - For the promotion and enjoyment of Indigenous Music under the CAAMA Music Label. (Commercial link).
* [ Australian Music Office] - Australian Government organisation aimed at promoting export initiatives for Australian arists and music companies

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