Traditional Aboriginal Music is an important part of ceremonial and cultural life. The Australian Aboriginals have had no written language and has relied on an oral method and music to pass on their knowledge for ages. They believe in the Creation beings that during the dreamtime took human or animal form and created their world and that these beings left stories to be passed on through the generations. Without a written language this knowledge is passed in the songs they taught the original indigenous Aboriginal inhabitants.
The creation beings taught songs linked to totems or dreaming, ancestral stories of sacred sites, important land features, laws and customs.
These songs combined with dancing and art are a vital part of Aboriginal ceremonial life. Each Aboriginal person inherits a totem and dreaming and the stories and songs and art that goes with it and is obliged to protect and pass on this information. There are songs that are considered sacred and secret and would only be performed by initiated men and women during such ceremonies such as initiation and child birth. Before and after the sacred ceremonies there can also be songs that can be performed by the whole tribe or viewed by the whole tribe for example the women may chant whilst the men dance. Songs may relate to hunting, finding water, creation stories, healing the sick, births and deaths.
They are taught by the elders or the tribes to the children and young adults as they move through the initiations process. Today’s aboriginal artists also sing the story songs as they paint the dreaming stories of which they are the guardians. The songs are mostly chanted and accompanied by the didgeridoo, music sticks and boomerangs used as clap sticks.
The boomerang is a curved shaped piece of wood used for hunting and fighting and these are also tapped together in time with the chanting of the songs and called clap sticks. The didgeridoo is one of the world’s oldest instruments and is a hollow piece of wood from the eucalypt tree. It has been naturally hollowed out by termites over time and it is blown into.
It produces an eerie droning like sound along with animal sounds and calls and this sound is distinctively linked with Aboriginal Music. Aboriginal music is also used to navigate the countryside as there are song lines about the paths left by the Creation Spirits as they travelled across the land. The Aboriginals navigate the countryside by singing the songs they have learnt by repetition.
The songs describes the location of hills, waterholes, landmarks, animals to be found and sacred areas and sites. Today the unique sounds of traditional ceremonies have been combined with Western sounds and instruments by groups such as Yothu Yindi, Salt Water Band, Warumpi Band and Geoffrey Yunupingu with great success.