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Indigenous Music

There are many types of what we call Australian indigenous music. In traditional societies, music has always played a role in ceremony, storytelling and entertainment, especially as dance accompaniment. In some societies women and men had their own music. We need to remember that the mainland people were mainly migratory hunter-gatherers and organised in clans and nations. There were over 600 traditional languages.

Here is one of the last of the traditional songmen, Nyalgodi Scotty Martin, from Elizabeth, West Australia. From the Rouseabout Record.




Over the years I have had many projects involving both traditional and contemporary Aboriginal and Islander music. I was certainly the first to make traditional music available to a wide market. When I operated Larrikin Records I issued, in conjunction with the traditional owners, numerous albums of regional music. My intention was to introduce and encourage understanding of this music. I also consulted with traditional owners regarding the limitations of white people interpreting traditional music – always a difficult issue. The majority of owners saw no problem with a white person playing didjeridoo or even singing their ‘version’ of traditional song fusion. My own thoughts are that it’s fine to play indigenous-inspired music as long as it is acknowledged and sympathetic.

Koori or Murri music, contemporary music, mainly songs, sung in non-language and having a direct link to Aboriginality is another separate genre of indigenous music. The first Koori songs I heard were recorded in the late 1950s by Dr. Jeremy Beckett and featured the wonderful talent of a Wilcannia man, Dougie Young. His songs like ‘The Land Where The Crow Flies Backwards’ and ‘Cutting A Rug’ really set the benchmark for later songwriters like Archie Roach and Kev Carmody.

Here is a women’s song Munga Munga from Central Australia. From a Larrikin Record issued in the 1990s.