Yidaki

The yidaki is a musical instrument of the Yolngu people from the North-East part of Arnhem
Land in Australia’s Northern Territory. The website Yidakiwuy Dhawu is dedicated to a presentation of this instrument and the culture that surrounds it. This instrument is more commonly known as the didgeridoo. Other Aboriginal groups in Arnhem Land and the surrounding parts of Australia have different names for the instrument.

My own personal experience with the Yolngu people and their culture and especially music has been through a series of intermittent meetings over the past seven or so years with Djalu’ Gurruwiwi and members of his immediate and exetnded family. Each of the times that I have met with Djalu’ I have felt greatly inspired and impressed by his playing and most importantly by himself as a person and as an ambassador for his people. His love for his culture and for all people is something that has left a lasting and deep impression on me, and it has greatly inspired me in many ways.

Indirectly the Yolngu have also been a big influence on my first deciding to learn to play the didgeridoo and then later on my decision to spend several years seriously studying the playing techniques of the Yolngu. I first heard the didge played well on the album Homeland Movement by the band Yothu Yindi. It was 1989. I was astounded and moved by what I heard and there was planted in me a desire to start playing the didge which finally came to fruition in 1994.

Some years later I found myself with an increasing desire to create that elusive sound that I had only ever heard from recordings of Arnhem Land yidaki masters. This decision led me to much hard and often difficult study but the end result for me personally is more than I could have imagined when I had first decided to follow the path of the traditional sound.

Today it is quite simple for anyone interested in hearing excellent players, or in seeing videos in which one can also study technique, thanks to internet. The best place to start is the ididjaustralia youtube channel. Some of the artists names to look out for are Djalu Gurruwiwi, Larry Gurruwiwi, Mirrwatnga Munyarryun, Adam Marrilaga (of the younger generation and a real power player), Terence Gaypalani Gurruwiwi, Ngongu Ganambarr, Bruce Burrngupurrngu and many more. Yolngu children start playing with the yidaki when they are three or four years old and by the time they are teenagers some are already competent and learning the yidaki parts for important ceremonies and song cycles. For a contemporary approach to traditional playing the best place to start is the didactic cd of Jeremy Cloake, probably the most proficient non-aboriginal player who uses extensively Yolngu yidaki technique in his playing. The didactic CD is Balanda Yidaki Dhukarr and is available from Jeremy’s website.

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Categories: Playing techniques, Yidaki
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