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Wurrurrumi Kun-Borrk: Songs from Western Arnhem Land.

Wurrurrumi Kun-Borrk: Songs from Western Arnhem Land

Kevin Djimarr (composer, songman and man-beringinj (clapsticks)), James lyuna (vocals), Jimmy Djarrbbarali (vocals), Owen Yalandja (mako (didjeridu)), Murray Garde and Stephen Wild (field recording and production), Declan Clooney (sound recordist and field technical support), Murray Garde (CD notes), Linda Barwick (publication coordinator) 2007

Sydney University Press (The Indigenous Music of Australia CD 1), CD and booklet, iii+27pp, ISBN 978 1 920898 61 8

This CD is not only a welcome addition to the growing number of well-documented recordings of traditional Aboriginal music, but the beginning of a new series known as the Indigenous Music of Australia. This series will become the 'public face' of the National Recording Project, although the more important part of that project may be the local archival centres that provide a resource for the ongoing life of the music in the communities where it belongs. At a time in the history of this land where government and media seem to be strengthening negative perceptions of Indigenous Australia, the publication of music, demonstrating the humanity, creativity and beauty of contemporary traditions, takes on a significant political dimension.

The CD and accompanying booklet present and document songs in the kun-borrk (also spelt as gunborrg in earlier literature) genre of Western Arnhem Land. This genre is familiar in places such as Kunbarllanjnja, Maningrida, Barunga and homelands in surrounding areas. The songs are individually owned rather than the heritage of a complete clan, sung by men accompanying themselves with clapsticks and accompanied by a short didjeridu. The documentation provided with the CD indicates that the ceremonial context of the songs closely parallels that of the manikay or bunggul songs of central and northeast Arnhem Land, in rituals of death, initiation and diploma cy, as well as being performed in non-ceremonial contexts.

The songs on this CD are owned and sung by Kevin Djimarr, who variously received them from wayarr spirits, composed or inherited them. Thirty-four songs are presented, with one sung on two different tracks (17 and 26, albeit labelled and transcribed differently). For most songs, the text is reiterated several times. Each song's text is transcribed and glossed, with an occasional note about the performance context or other related information. The quality of the recording, and indeed of the whole presentation, is very high. Murray Garde's description of the song texts in the booklet as having 'haiku-like poetic beauty' (p.3) is apt. One error might be pointed out: the reference to track 32 on p.3 should be to track 31. A map might be a helpful addition to the documentation.

It would be a pity if the beauty and craft of these songs were undervalued by their simply being used as an ambient soundtrack or background music. There is great potential for this resource to form the basis of further interaction with a performing community, and some helpful signposts are provided in the lists of further reading and listening inside the booklet's back cover. The music itself is not well documented in the booklet and many questions could be asked by interested listeners and students, using these songs as a springboard for further research. Six different melodic contours and three tempo bands seem to be used, with a variety of clapstick patterns: does each belong to particular songs, or may a song be sung to different melodies and at different tempos? Is there a relationship between melody and tempo? What is the musical shape of a performance? Is the relationship between the pitch of the didjeridu and the melodic contour as stable as is the case in this recording? How do the musical characteristics of these songs relate to other kun-borrk series? How do the performers describe and interpret the musical features of this tradition.

Questions could also be asked about the dance that these songs accompany (and is there the possibility that the National Recording Project could in future years document dance as well as music?). Does dance change or influence the musical shape of the songs? What is the shape of the dance? How do performers describe and interpret the movements?

And outside the music and dance, how do the performers see the relationship between these songs and the ceremonially cognate, although musically distinct, manikay/bunggul song series further north and east, or wangga songs further west? Where are the borders between ceremonially or musically cognate genres, and what is the nature of those borders?

As more music recordings are made available to the public and the scholarly community through the Indigenous Music of Australia series, more opportunities will emerge for understanding the varied landscape of indigenous performance traditions, both in greater knowledge of each performance tradition, and also how different traditions relate to one another. There are outlines to be cross-hatched and dots to be joined. Wurrurrumi Kun-borrk is an excellent contribution at the beginning of this enterprise.

Reviewed by Greg Anderson

Moore Theological College, Newtown 2042

COPYRIGHT 2007 Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
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Article Details
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Author:Anderson, Greg
Publication:Australian Aboriginal Studies
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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