Didgeridoo. traditionally called yidaki or mandapul, is the oldest wind instrument in the world dating back as far as 40,000 years by some estimates. It is origins come from the Northeast Arnhemland region of Australia where it is used for ceremonies, dance and storytelling of the Dreamtime. The Galpu Clan of the Yolgnu tribe, who live in this region, are considered the custodians of didgeridoo. Their leader,Djalu Gurruwiwi is considered the prime custodian of didgeridoo. Djalu together with his sister Donghal have been instrumental in sharing their culture primarily through sharing this instrument. dance and some stories with balanda or non Aboriginals.
How it’s made
Didgeridoo is traditionally made from stringybark eucalyptus which is a dense, heavy wood from Northeast Arnhemland. The wood is chosen by tapping on the trees that have been eaten out by white ants (termites). Once a tree is selected it is cut down usually above ground to allow growth of a new tree. the log is then cleaned out with a stick, taken back to camp to be shaped inside and out, painted and fitted with a mouthpiece made of beeswax if needed. This video is of Djalu Gurruwiwi and his wife Dopiya harvesting, making and playing of a traditional yidaki in 2004.
Other eucalyptus woods used for didgeridoo include mallee, yellow box, woollybutt, bloodwood and blue gum among others.
In the west, didgeridoos are made from a variety of materials including hardwoods like maple and oak, yucca, agave, hemp, steel, crystal, glass and plastic. The crafting techniques can vary widely depending on the material but typically hardwood didgeridoos are split lengthwise, hollowed out with tools and glued back together before finishing. Agave and yuccas can be made with the same techniques as hardwoods or they can be drilled out with a simple hand drill, spade bits and drill extensions.
How the sound is made
The basic drone of the didgeridoo is made simply by vibrating your lips together in what some people call a raspberry. The video to the right demonstrates this technique.
Other techniques using vocals, tongue placement, diaphragm and breath can be combined with the drone to create a variety of unique sounds and styles. You may find many examples of styles of playing through Youtube or Vimeo. Search suggestions are: Northwest Arnhemland Style Didgeridoo, Yidaki, Yolgnu style, West Arnhemland Didgeridoo Style, maggo. In addition, there are many names you can find as well. they include:
Djalu Gurruwiwi, Larry Gurruwiwi, Darryl Dikarrnga Brown, Stephen Kent, Tyler Spencer, Lies Beijerinck, David Hudson, Ash Dargan, Johnny Cope, Charlie McMahon, Dubravko Lapaine, Ondrej Smeykal, Will Thoren, Zalem, Gauthier Aube, Jeremy Donovan, Adele Blanchin and many many more.
To Sum it Up
This page is just the beginning of an exploration of what didgeridoo is and can be. There are many, many resources out there about didgeridoo and the aboriginal culture. Here are some of the links I’ve found where you can find more information. If there is a site that you would like to see here, please let me know by sending me an email.
IDIDJ Australia – is a didgeridoo based online hub run by Guan and Swee Lim that focuses on the rich cultural heritage of Indigenous tribes of Northern Australia and their connection and history with didgeridoo as well as information on the many facets of didgeridoo.
Yirrkala.com – is a site where you can find out more about the Yirrkala Arts Centre located in Nhulunby, Northern Territory, Australia. Yirrkala features artworks by local tribes, news about openings, exhibitions and projects that further the education and understanding of Aboriginal art and artists and culture.
Garma Festival - Hosted by the Yothu Yindi Foundation, Garma Festival is the largest Aboriginal cultural festival in Australia. It has not only helped to foster education, experience and exploration of Aboriginal culture for non-Aboriginals but also to help preserve cultural tradition through classes and programs for future generations.
In Between Songs – is a documentary made in 2014 by Joshua Bell that focuses on the struggles of the Galpu Clan. It follows Djalu Gurruwiwi the clan leader and senior lawman and the struggle to keep their culture together in the face of mounting pressures of modern progress including drug abuse and alcoholism and lack of interest in traditions among the younger generations.
Rabbit Proof Fence – Set in 1931, this film follows the true story of Molly and Daisy Craig and their cousin Gracie Fields who were forcibly taken from their home as part of the Stolen Generations and their 1000 mile journey to get back home.
Didgeridoo in the Western World
Here in the west, didgeridoo is primarily used as a solo and healing instrument as well as finding its way into band and ensemble settings. It began making it’s way into the western culture in the late 60’s and early 70’s but didn’t really become popular until more recently. Because it is so new to us, we often see it as a curiosity or a novelty. But as time goes on, we are beginning to see and appreciate the many different facets of this instrument through recordings both traditional and contemporary, stage performance and in educational outreach all of which leads to a better understanding of the instrument and its origins. Here is at least a partial list of performers of and bands that feature didgeridoo.
One last note: This page is a work in progress and I’ll be adding more as time goes on. If there is anything you see that can be added please let me know. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org