Tag Archives: tribal music

Didjeridoo Summit

Ondrej Smeykal and Stephen Kent’s Didjeridoo Summit was wonderful again this year. This music and these people are just so healing for me. I know from the faces and responses that everyone who experiences a show like this is touched by the energy, as well.

I don’t know what it is about primal music. It takes to us a native place, where we felt each other and our bodies more intuitively and honestly, where “We Are One” wasn’t a mantra yet because we hadn’t forgotten. I reflect on what it is about the didgeridoo that fosters that Oneness. I imagine ancient instruments remind our cells and psyches of a time and place where reliance on one another was requisite for survival. Perhaps in those times, community comfort and love was simpler, too. I always think of the Earth in those days, so pure and unadulterated. I think, “But time marches on. We filled the planet simply because we did. We invented better ways to do our work because that’s who we are.” Invariably I wonder, “When did the power grab separate us from our planet and our integrity? And how could we let it continue once we recognized it? How do we not insist that we save Her?” I just don’t get it. I feel anxiety rise in me that I’m not doing enough. Then I breathe again, because simply being in a community, in a concert like this, is something. I believe that the voice of the Earth comes through these instruments and whispers to each participant, “Come back to me. I want to be your home. I want to be well, and embrace my children.” Writing that, I feel like a New Age, do-nothing hack.

I’m struggling with a recent trauma. It is for this reason that I haven’t written. As I take myself back into the energy of that room, however, this is, in fact, what I received. Getting that pit-of-my-stomach poser shame is my own hubris, I know. I’m willing to accept that I care and would do more if I could.

I came home from the performance praying that those with power and money would be touched by the need of our human family to reconnect with and recover our Mother. I say that prayer again now. I’m so grateful for those in my community who do have means, and use them for awareness and activism. I love the musicians and artists who take us to that place where Spirit speaks, and we hear. I love the people who attend such rallies, meetings, and performances for their desire to learn and share this message, or simply to find relief. Whether you’re there for the first time or for a refresher, this is what you can receive.

And it just makes you happy! Stephen Kent told Marko, “I don’t know what it is about Salt Lake. I get so silly here! I’m usually very serious when I perform.” I’ve only seen an even blend of both. It’s very effective. He’s just the most utterly delightful man. He plays with us! It makes discussions about Aboriginal people and the dire condition of the planet not more palatable, but more… natural. Yes, we are here to celebrate! Yes, we need to get things done. NOW. Otherwise, I just kept grinning at how cute he is up there, haha! I love his style and how he moves when he plays. It has something to do with the way shaking a percussive rattle makes him shake his tail feather. It’s organic and… darling. And who can say enough about his personality and pithy British wit?stephen

My relief and healing began again when Stephen started, though that’s not to suggest I did not deeply feel the passion and prayer that emanates from Leraine Horstmanhoff. She’s amazing, and I look forward to all of her performances. (I enjoyed a house concert in winter last year. I should have written about it.) When you sit with the continuous drone of the didgeridoo, however, with that gorgeous deep breath again, Source knows what you need and gets it for you. Oh man, it was good to relax! (I went to Spain in July and had a very bad experience that resulted in hiding for the remainder of my stay in a safe house for battered women. My attacker was a [female] friend of 10 years.)

I completely let go of my belly and breathed. Soon, I got up and stretched. My soul ached and so did my body. I danced some, but mostly I just stretched. Ondrej Smeykal was playing now, and there’s not a word to describe the meditative place he takes us to. I want to invent a new one. It was very much a feeling of, “You’re right. We took us here!” I felt the energy of everyone in that room contributing to the healing of my body, and thanked them for it. Then I opened my eyes and saw my friend Peter lying on pillows on the floor. He fell 40 ft. in June from an anchor as he started to rappel a rockface, and broke his back. It’s a miracle he’s alive. I went to him and danced and stretched nearby. Ondrej had invited us to close our eyes and go within, “and see what we create. I’m not very interesting to watch,” he said. Inasmuch as he doesn’t dance or talk or play various instruments, I suppose he was right, but he channeled for 35 minutes straight. (My date, a first-timer, told me later, amazed.) I think he played 4 distinct pieces, between which we clapped, of course, but the effect was continuous, pure connection.

Ondrej is mistaken, in my opinion, about not watching him. You’d be stirring inside that magic space and then, sure enough, he’d blow your mind again and you had to look. His aura sucked you straight into his energy! It was so powerful and beautiful. Stillness isn’t boring. It’s peace. How strange to enter quiet against the backdrop of this explosive, percussive sound! Indeed, because of it. ondrej

Ondrej closed the evening elaborating on the theme that became the title of last year’s review: Simple, Complex, and Exact. “With these instruments there’s no restriction or frustration,” he said. “You don’t need a passport and there’s no language barrier.” He couldn’t have known how relevant that was for me. For weeks, I’ve marveled at the good fortune that was mine in Spain. Beyond language limitation, I met and healed with the most beautiful, energetic people. I knew as it was happening that my own resonance attracted safety and love.

It’s been a struggle since my return to maintain that feeling of worthiness and humility. I was fine for about 2 weeks after coming home, and then the bottom fell out. This concert, this connection reminded me. The following week, I made an appointment to begin trauma counseling. I’m also doing music therapy, though I didn’t know that’s what it was when I signed up. I started an 8-wk. djembe workshop that I am rocking, if I do say so myself! It was inspired. I’m the cheapest tightwad you’ll ever meet. I’ve been wanting to join this class for years, but couldn’t justify the expense. Now here I am with credit card debt from an ill-fated trip and, boom, I just did it! It is saving me. And I actually practice! I never did find my on-switch with the didgeridoo. 🙂 But, oh, how I love it!

Tribal music heals the soul.

me with a spanish tanI try to imbue this blog with my personality, yet stay a little more distant from it than my personal blog. I intended it to be a forum for discussions mainly on the didge, naturally, but also on broader native music. It also was a means to highlight the instruments and talents of Marko Johnson, who coordinated the show and is the go-to didge guy in Salt Lake, and a known inventor in the didge world. The man holds the patent on the didjbox, a compact didgeridoo perfect for travel and just plain cool, like its designer. He was the first to alter this instrument in 400,000 years. But this Summit touched a place in me that was deeply frightened. Thank you for bearing with me. Blessings!marko and yanaHere’s Marko playing The Micro Didjbox and Yana holding one of his leather didges at my 41st birthday party. I’m blessed with good friends. Thanks again, C

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Filed under concert, didge box, didgeridoo, didjbox

Women and The Didgeridoo

I came across a fascinating article by linguist Lera Boroditsky, in which she explores how language shapes the way we see the world. I love the idea that the global community is robbed when any language dies. We lose something when a unique way of seeing (and saying) disappears. Boroditsky’s research is comprehensive, gratifying, and exciting. Something she reveals about the language structure of one Aboriginal tribe caught my attention: “In languages that have grammatical gender, all the nouns are assigned to a grammatical category. In the simpler examples it would be masculine and feminine. Sometimes there is a third gender, masculine, feminine and neuter. In more complex cases there can be as many as 16 genders with a special grammatical category for hunting tools or for canines, depending on the language. George Lakoff made famous a grammatical gender category in an Aboriginal language that included women, fire and dangerous things. Those were the things that were all treated grammatically equivalently in this language.”

I find that simultaneously interesting and hilarious! Women have long been held responsible – artistically, mythologically, socially (and now, linguistically?) – for the choices of both men and women. (Adam and Eve, anyone?) And… Well, I’m a redhead. Women, fire, and dangerous things I know all too well. Someone will ask by day’s end if I have a temper… and get an angry earful. (I tease.) Delightful!

With reference to gender, we’ve discussed didgeridoo as traditionally played by men. However, Marko found a quote revealing the opinion of famed didgeridoo maker, player, and instructor, Djalu Gurruwiwi. I’m sorry I’m not familiar with the speaker, Gög Didge: “My partner Dori just came back from a meeting with yidakimaster Djalu in Sydney, where they brought this message to the point: All non-traditional women should feel free to play the didgeridoo, where they want, what they want to play, and when they want to play it.”

Awesome.

Commonly, it is advised to approach the issue of women playing the didgeridoo with sensitivity. Many are open to it, but it is, as yet, fairly controversial. Assumptions should never be made. For more on the subject, go to http://yidakistory.com/dhawu/35miyalk.html.

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Filed under Aboriginal people, Australia, didgeridoo, Marko Johnson

Hovia Edwards and Women Playing Traditional Tribal Music

A couple of years ago, I came across a most interesting PBS documentary following young musicians from different backgrounds brought together for a single purpose. The series was called Soundmix, the Episode, “Five Young Musicians,” the purpose? To create a collaborative original piece of music.

How are these youth going to blend such distinct sounds?! I thought. Even harder, how might they give voice to each?

It was thrilling to learn the journey into music of each of the players – a Latin drummer from New York, a classical cellist from Cali, an improv New Orleans horn player, an old-time West Virginia fiddler, and Hovia Edwards, from Idaho, on the Native American flute – and to observe their creative process as they adjusted to each other, then bonded, learned from one another, and made a strange, glorious symphony all their own.

I was really excited because I lived for a time as a very young girl with my grandparents right down the road from Fort Hall Indian Reservation, where Hovia Edwards grew up. My big sister was the only Anglo in first grade! I used to walk down the road to the red brick schoolhouse and play with her at lunch… until a big, scowling girl decided she didn’t like me one bit and I was too scared to return. 🙂 As an adult I’ve found myself attracted to Native Americans and their culture, almost by accident. I certainly couldn’t have predicted being asked at age 20 to model in a $100,000 authentic Indian dress! But I feel humbled and blessed to have meandered barefoot on that ranch in Montana, feeding horses, posing in a teepee. (At the time, I was frightened and unsure, retreating from what seemed like a painful and terrifying future.) Later, I didn’t intend to meet people who would invite me to pray with them in sweat lodge, but their association has enriched my life. I finally begin to perceive the power of prayer. Every time, as the heat rises and the song begins to shift me from “out there” to connectedness, the same image comes to my mind: I see myself as a girl on a covered wagon crossing the plains and meeting the faces of our brown brothers and sisters as we journey through strange land. I really do!

I was gratified to learn that Miss Edwards represented the Goshute Tribe in the Opening Ceremonies of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

Native flutes are considered medicine, and are also used in courtship. Historically, only men played but by the 60s there were very few players left. In the 70s, a resurgence of interest in tribal people and custom popularized the instrument anew. I’m of the opinion that keeping any tradition singing is worth a tweak to convention. Young people need to know who they are! I believe in adhering as much as possible to ritual for the sake of continuity and cultural identity, but… I’m a white girl who goes to sweat lodges. What do you think I think of women playing instruments excluded to them for millenia? Of course I find it transcendent and inspiring! Moreover, I think it makes the circle complete. I believe that change can co-exist with tradition when the time and place, and therefore understanding, shift. For me, the real beauty exists in my view that, anymore, the world is a small and intimate place. We all benefit from sharing the best of our people with each Other.

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Filed under music, Salt Lake City

Aboriginal Australians and The Didgeridoo

I’ve never played a traditional didge so I can’t do a compare/contrast, but I confess I can’t really wrap my mind around the concept of random, non-harmonic frequencies. It really makes little difference to me at this point in my learning, since I can only do my trusty drone and one trumpet note, but that one trumpet note is exactly one octave higher. Is that simply not the case with the traditional didgeridoo? I don’t suppose I’ve heard as many trumpet notes in more traditional playing… and then it occurs to me: Have I heard the didgeridoo played traditionally? Surely, Marko has shared recordings of indiginous people playing their instruments.

This reflection comes on the heels of a long overdue “intro” to this intoxicating instrument of native Australians. Aboriginal men knew termite migration patterns just as they knew that of animals, and followed them to eucalyptus forests to harvest raw materials. By tapping the trunk, they identified hollow trees, chopping them down and shaping the exterior to finish the instrument. Therin lies my question: What were/are the harmonics like? They did nothing to manipulate the interior. That was all-natural termite lunch!

Today, non-traditional craftsmen makes didges out of just about anything, from PVC plastic to any type of wood, which is usually split in half, hollowed – with some amazing, specific dimensions and dynamics! – then reattacted. Then there are rockstars like Marko Johnson, who revolutioned the didge world as we know it! Once he invented the didjbox, it caught on like wildfire. People build some incredible things – works of art – around the exact same basic box. Many don’t even know they could email the guy who designed this thing they are likely obsessed with. 🙂 Here: mj@rounddoor.com.

As for the funny moniker, there are varying names for the instrument among the many different tribes of indiginous people. None resemble didgeridoo. That title probably came from colonizers mimicking the sound it made.

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Filed under Aboriginal people, Australia, didgeridoo, didjbox, Marko Johnson, music