Australian Aboriginal Music

Australian aboriginal music

Australian aboriginal music is intriguing and has a lot of depth. It has existed for well over 50,000 years. The music comes from various regions throughout Australia with different influences and styles. Furthermore there are some very consistent instrumentation that occur throughout the continent.

The most common instruments are:

Clap sticks

Clap sticks are a simple percussion instrument. Some can be works of art with carvings and patterns woven throughout the texture of the wood. Corroborees and various social dances incorporate clap sticks. The traditional way of using clap sticks is to strike them together. Many ceremonies use clap sticks in conjunction with the didgeridoo. Therefore the traditional names for clap sticks in Arnhem land are Bimli or bilma. A good music studio can capture the harshness of the “clapping” sound.


The didgeridoo is essentially a wind instrument. It is one of the oldest instruments in the world.  Beeswax coats the mouthpiece.
Similarly it was normally an accompaniment instrument for a ceremonial dance of some sort. Aboriginal culture forbids women from playing the didgeridoo.

The northern tribe use the didgeridoo. Subsequently this has been a point of contention for northern traditional players who claimed instrument as their own. They don’t see it as a generic Australian instrument. Northern aboriginals consider it culturally taboo for southern aborigines to play the instrument. Furthermore it is now played world wide by many people of different cultures. It is seen as a cultural ambassador for Australian culture. For a Sydney recording studio that is capable of capturing the perfect tonality of the wood, you need Crash Symphony Productions.


One of the unique techniques behind successful didgeridoo playing is circular breathing. It involves breathing in through the nose while simultaneously exhaling through the mouth using air stored in the cheeks. The aboriginal didgeridoo players became masters of this technique over thousands of years. That is to say are able to play for very long periods of time without removing their mouth from the didgeridoo. Modern brass players also employ this technique.

In addition, other techniques employed by expert didgeridoo players focus on creating harmonic resonance. The wood its self always has its own special note of resonance. A good player will experiment with various harmonic overtones. Some overtones include the fifth, the octave the major third and the dominant seventh. Recording techniques to capture such subtlety can only be found in the best Sydney Recording studios.

Famous didgeridoo players

Firstly famous players include Mark Atkins, Shane Underwood and Djalu Gurruwiwi. Furthermore he is known as the ranking elder of the instrument by most Australian aboriginals). A white Australian who is well known for his skill on the didgeridoo is Charlie McMahon.

A father of the didgeridoo:

Djalu Gurruwiwi was born around 1940 in North East Arnhem land in the Wessel Islands. He is from the Yirrikala community and connected with the Yolngu peoples. He is from the Galpu clan. Moreover the Galpu clan is one of the primary custodian groups of the instrument. Apart from being a master  Yidaki (the traditional name for a didgeridoo player) he is also a great maker of the instrument. His art is famous throughout the world.

Djalu was relatively unknown before 1986. It was then that the modern dance band Yothu Yindi recruited him to make didgeridoos for them. Throughout the 1990’s his reputation spread to almost cult like status. Djalu has since travelled to Germany, USA, Japan and Taiwan, spreading the message of Northern Australian Aboriginal culture. He teaches people about the history of the didgeridoo. He has performed for Nelson Mandella. To sum up, Djalu is a widely reputed ambassador for the instrument.

Different song forms

A Wangga is usually enacted with one or two singers, clap sticks and a didgeridoo. It is performed as a funeral rite to purify a dead persons possessions. Other uses for a Wangga include a circumcision ceremony. The Wangga song starts with a piercing high ton. In conclusion it moves to a darker mood with lower tones.

Clan songs

Similarly they tell stories and enact histories and mythologies of aboriginal music. They not only tell a linear story but also can paint landscapes and navigational information. Other clan songs focus on family stories, names and histories.

Yothu Yindi

Yothu Yindi have served to spread the culture and instrumentation worldwide. The words Yothu Yindi translate “child and mother”. They formed in the mid 80s around rock music and house dance music. Their first major hit was Treaty which went all the way to number 11 on the Australian charts. They followed it up with the release of the Album Tribal Voice which itself went to number 4.

Similarly the members of Yothu Yindi are from the Yolngu homelands. They use the band as a medium to spread the stories and culture of the Yolngu peoples. Members of Yothu Yindi produced the Garma Festival of Traditional Cultures in 1999. Likewise, their exchange with former prime minister Bob Hawke was note able. In the early 80s Bob visited a gathering in Barunga and made a statement about forming a treaty between aboriginal Australians and whites. “Well, I heard it on the radio. And I saw it on the television”. Paul Kelly colaborated with Yothu Yindi to write Treaty. The recording techniques used for Yothu Yindi were very specialised.