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My favourite album: Yothu Yindi’s Tribal Voice

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Music is central to my training and career as a musician and (ethno)musicologist. I’ve studied music of one kind or another since the age of four, and so I have many favourite albums and artists. But one special album - Tribal Voice - has shaped me so much more than any other, and set the course of my life and work.

It was the brainchild of Yothu Yindi, a band with roots in the former Methodist mission town of Yirrkala on the Gove Peninsula in northeast Arnhem Land. This is a remote part of Australia with an Indigenous majority population that comprises the traditional homelands of the Yolŋu people.

Formed in 1986, Yothu Yindi brought together three Yolŋu musicians from Yirrkala whose upbringings had been steeped in traditional culture - the late M Yunupiŋu, Witiyana Marika, and the late M Munuŋgurr - with three “Balanda” musicians whom they’d befriended in Darwin - Stu Kellaway, Cal Williams, and Andy Beletty. The band’s debut album, Homeland Movement (1989), opened with four original songs. What ensued, however, had never been heard on a rock album before.

The following nine tracks were drawn from song series of the Manikay tradition, the sacred songs performed by the Yolŋu at public ceremonies. Different sets of these Manikay items belonged to the Gumatj and Rirratjiŋu clans, of which Yunupiŋu and Marika were respective members. They stand as sacred expressions of their unbroken lineages from the original ancestors who named, shaped and populated the Yolŋu homelands, bestowing ownership of these myriad countries upon people of their descent.

Tribal Voice, the band’s second album of 1991, showed a much more blended approach, and produced two hit songs through remixes of Treaty and Djäpana: Sunset Dreaming (released on an extended edition of the album in 1992). This album interspersed Manikay items of the Rirratjiŋu clan, Dhum’thum (Agile Wallaby) and Yinydjapana (Dolphin), with originals........

© The Conversation