Ever since I became interested in politics, Indigenous culture has captivated me. This is a privilege, as I can marvel at the strength and beauty of Indigenous people without living with the persistent trauma that many Indigenous people experience. As I explored this in my spare time, I decided to take a module in Indigenous art, something entirely out of my comfort zone. This included an essay worth one hundred percent of my grade, where I was expected to analyze discourses on various Indigenous art forms and how they have triggered a re-examination of academic disciplines. I decided to focus on music for part of this essay, particularly the Yolngu Songmen from the Northern Territory in Australia.
Typically, my taste in music is eclectic. I grew up on classic rock and eighties hits, slowly immersing myself in hip-hop and r&b in my teens. Today, my favourite artists are Kaytranada, Lauryn Hill, Kendrick Lamar, and Princess Nokia, but it changes every day. While my sense of music is incredibly varied, it has been limited to Western artists for the most part.
In researching this essay, I stumbled upon Waak Waak Djungi, three contemporary Yolngu songmen combined with a Victorian musician. Their LP ‘Waak Waak Ga Min Min’ was released in 1997 and was re-released in 2018. The tracks are entirely foreign to me; spoken in their native languages Djinang and Gannalbingu. Their spiritual ties to the music are something unfamiliar to me as well. Yolngu Songmen traditionally receive inspiration for their musical features in dreams, given to them by their ancestors. The music is then performed for the ancestors. In many non-Western cultures, history is passed down orally. These songs allow for the continuation of their culture and are spiritually significant. Yes, music is important in my culture as well. It has allowed me to connect with loved ones and regulate my emotions. However, it has never served the same purpose as it has for the Yolgnu.
While these elements were unfamiliar to me, other aspects allowed the LP to serve purpose in my life as well. The traditional lyrics and melodies are juxtaposed with electronic synthesizers, reminding me of the eighties music I grew up with. As the lyrics are in a foreign language, I have the opportunity to pay attention to the performance and attempt to understand the complexity of the tracks.
I am incredibly honored to have the opportunity to listen to music dissimilar to anything in my library. I would recommend anyone to listen to Waak Waak Djungi, as well as actively finding music that is out of their comfort zone.