Singing Bones

Manikay are the ancestral songs of Arnhem Land, passed down over generations and shaping relationships between people and the country.

Singing Bones foregrounds the voices of manikay singers from Ngukurr in southeastern Arnhem Land and charts their critically acclaimed collaboration with jazz musicians from the Australian Art Orchestra, Crossing Roper Bar. It offers an overview of Wägilak manikay narratives and style, including their social, ceremonial and linguistic aspects, and explores the Crossing Roper Bar project as an example of creative intercultural collaboration and a living continuation of the manikay tradition.

“Through song, the ancestral past animates the present, moving yolŋu (people) to dance. In song, community is established. By song, the past enfolds the present. Today, the unique voices of Wägilak resound over the ancestral ground and water, carried by the songs of old.”

Buy the book from Sydney University Press: Singing Bones: Ancestral Creativity and Collaboration

Audio Examples

The following audio examples are arranged by chapter, and are referenced in the book.

‘CRB album’ refers to the ‘Crossing Roper Bar’ album, released by the Australian Art Orchestra (AAO) in 2010.
‘YWG’ refers to the Young Wägilak Group from Ngukurr, Northern Territory.

Chapter 1

Audio example 1a. “Djulwapada” walking mode.
Benjamin Wilfred, Andy Peters, and David Wilfred (yidaki). Ŋilipidji, South East Arnhem Land, August 25, 2010.
Audio example 1b. “Djuwalpada,” walking mode.
Benjamin Wilfred, Roy Natilma (higher voice), and David Wilfred (yidaki). Recording made during sessions for the CRB album, Melbourne, 13 April 2009.
Audio example 1c. “Djuwalpada,” dancing mode.
Benjamin Wilfred, Roy Natilma, and David Wilfred (yidaki). Vocal interjections by Wesley Wilfred. Recording made during sessions for the CRB album, Melbourne, 13 April 2009.
Audio example 1d. “Gara” (Spear) throwing mode, with Benjamin Wilfred, Roy Natilma, and David Wilfred (yidaki).
Vocal interjections by Wesley Wilfred. Recording made during sessions for the CRB album, Melbourne, 13 April 2009.

Chapter 2

Audio example 2a. “Wäkwak” (Crow) feeding mode.
Nunydjirrpi version sung by the YWG at a funeral in Ngukurr, August 19, 2010.

Chapter 4

Audio example 4a. “Wata” (Wind), beginning with the slow mode and then shifting into the strong wind mode.
The YWG leading a funeral in Ngukurr, 18 August 2010.
Audio example 4b. “Birrkpirrk/Dudutudu” (Plover/Owl Duet)
Andy Peters and David Wilfred (yidaki). Ngukurr, 12 July 2011.
Audio example 4c. “Guku” (Honey)
The YWG singing at a funeral; Andy Peters sings the coda. Ngukurr, 18 August 2010.
Audio example 4d. “Malka” (string bag), dancing mode.
Jim Wilfred leading the YWG in a funeral in Ngukurr, 18 August 2010.

Chapter 5

Audio example 5a. “Dhaŋarra” (White flower).
The YWG singing at a funeral in Ngukurr. This example begins with an extended ŋurru-waŋa (nose-speech; introduction). 8 July 2011.
Audio example 5b. “Djuwalpada,” brother and sister mode.
Daniel Wilfred leads Benjamin Wilfred, Roy Natilma, Andy Peters, and David Wilfred plays yidaki. Ngukurr, 8 July 2011.
Audio example 5c. Different text selections in a recording of “Djuwalpada.”
Ngukurr, 8 July 2011.
Audio example 5d. “Guku” (Honey). An extended liya-waŋa (coda), finished by Benjamin Wilfred.
With Daniel Wilfred, Roy Natilma, Andy Peters, and David Wilfred playing yidaki. Ngukurr, 8 July 2011.
Audio example 5e. “Djuwalpada,” walking mode.
In two parts: a) Sung by Sambo Barabara with Roy [Natilma] playing yidaki, Ngukurr, 1975 (courtesy of Jeffrey Heath); b) Sung by Benjamin Wilfred and Roy Natilma, with David Wilfred playing yidaki, Melbourne, 13 April 2009.
Audio example 5f. Two different dämbu (head) patterns: a) “Wäkwak” (Black crow) from Ŋilipidji. Benjamin Wilfred, Daniel Wilfred, and David Wilfred (yidaki). Ngukurr, July 8, 2011; b) “Dhalara” (King Brown snake) from Wulku.
Andy Peters and David Wilfred (yidaki). Ngukurr, 11 July 2011.
Audio example 5g. “Mädawk” (Friarbird), football mode.
Benjamin Wilfred, Daniel Wilfred, and David Wilfred (yidaki). Ngukurr, 26 May 2010.
Audio example 5h. Unison chorus from the “Goodbye Song”. Benjamin Wilfred, Daniel Wilfred, Roy Natilma, Andy Peters, and David Wilfred (yidaki).
Ngukurr, 8 July 2011.

Chapter 6

Audio example 6a. “Birrkpirrk” (Plover), walking mode.
The first CRB rehearsal. Ngukurr, 27 July 2005.
Audio example 6b. “Birrkpirrk” (Plover), walking mode.
The first concert of CRB, introduced by Benjamin Wilfred. Ngukurr, 28 July 2005.
Audio example 6c. “Gara” (Spear), throwing mode.
Benjamin Wilfred, Daniel Wilfred, Andy Peters, Roy Natilma, and David Wilfred (yidaki), Ngukurr, 7 July 2011.
Audio example 6d. “Gara” (Spear), throwing mode.
From the first CRB album, 2010.
Audio example 6e. “Gara” (Spear), throwing mode.
From the first CRB album, 2010. This is a continuation of audio example 6d.
Audio example 6f. “Birrkpirrk” (Plover), brother and sister mode.
From the first CRB album, 2010.
Audio example 6g. David Wilfred demonstrates some yidaki patterns.
Melbourne, March 21, 2011.
Audio example 6h. “Gara” (Spear), dancing mode; “Malka” (String bag), dancing mode.
Paul Grabowsky (piano) playing on the first CRB album, 2010.
Audio example 6i. “Djuwalpada,” dancing mode.
Benjamin Wilfred and Roy Natilma during recording sessions for the first CRB album, 2009.
Audio Example 6j. “Birrkpirrk” (Plover), brother and sister mode.
Benjamin Wilfred and Roy Natilma on the first CRB album, 2009.
Audio example 6k. “Gara” (Spear), dancing mode.
Tony Hicks’ (tenor saxophone) improvisation leads into a liya-waŋa (coda) with Erkki Veltheim (viola). From the first CRB album, 2010.

Chapter 7

Audio example 7a. “Galpan” (Dillybag), weaving mode.
Daniel Wilfred, Benjamin Wilfred, David Wilfred (yidaki), Andy Peters, Roy Natilma. Ngukurr, 8 July 2011.
Audio example 7b. “Malka” (String bag), dancing mode.
Liya-waŋa (coda) sung by Daniel Wilfred with Benjamin Wilfred, Roy Natilma, Andy Peters, and David Wilfred (yidaki). Ngukurr, 8 July 2012.
Audio example 7c. “Wata” (Wind), picking up mode.
Benjamin Wilfred calls up the wind with the AAO; Daniel Wilfred is singing. Quai Branly Museum, Paris, 10 November 2012.
Audio example 7d. “Djuwalpada,” dancing mode.
Improvisation beginning with the piano (Paul Grabowsky) and clarinet (Tony Hicks); others progressively commit themselves into the mix. Paris, 10 November 2011.
Audio example 7e. Three examples of improvised textures in CRB: a) “Gara” (spear), a textually dense section of independent voices; b) “Malka” (string bag), note the imitation of dämbu in the piano (Paul Grabowsky); c) Raki (string), with the synthesiser (Paul Grabowsky) and flute (Tony Hicks) used to create layers of colour alongside the continuing groove.
Paris, 10 November 2012.
Audio example 7f. Three examples of Tony Hicks’ instrument selection (piccolo, flute, soprano saxophone) within the one concert.
Monash University students—forming a small brass ensemble—can be heard in the middle of this example. Melbourne, 14 September 2012.
Audio example 7g. The shimmering opening of CRB.
Daniel Wilfred: “First song called Wild Blackfella. He went with his spears. This is the song.” Paris, 10 November 2012.

Chapter 8

Audio example 8a. Excerpt from the Song of Sita, from the collaboration Theft of Sita, by the AAO.
The singer is Shelly Scown.
Audio example 8b. Opening of Sacred Cow’s Tail, from The Chennai Sessions, by the AAO.
 
Audio example 8c. Improvisations by Daniel, Benjamin and David Wilfred in “Raki” (String) and “Birrkpirrk” (Plover).
The guitarist is Ren Walters. Melbourne, 14 September 2012.
Audio example 8d. Opening of CRB improvised by Daniel and Benjamin Wilfred.
This excerpt fades back in as the singers return to the same motif at a later stage. Melbourne, 14 September 2012.
Audio example 8e. “Djuwalpada,” brother and sister mode.
Recording session, using composed fragments. Melbourne, 19 March 2011.
Audio example 8f. “Wata” (Wind), gentle breeze mode.
A composed section performed with bass clarinet and violin from the first CRB album.

Epilogue

Audio example 9a. Yolŋu manikay meets Korean P’ansori.
David Wilfred (yidaki) and Bae Il Dong (voice). Informal performance during the AAO’s Creative Music Intensive, 21 September 2018.
Audio example 9b. “Two Birds,” flying and singing together.
From the collaboration Hand to Earth, performed by Daniel Wilfred, Sunny Kim, and Peter Knight (trumpet and laptop). Produced by Leo Dale, 2018.