Tag Archives: women and traditional music

Simple, Complex, Exact

Ondrej Smeykal, Didgeridoo Master & Friends

What an awesome show!

Can you believe it was FIVE hours?!!! I couldn’t either. There were social breaks between performers and sets, so we wiggled around and hugged old friends/met new ones, but… five hours! I couldn’t believe it when I turned my phone on.

We were transported.

Ondrej spoke briefly before he began. He’s very hushed, and even mic’d it was difficult with his accent and pitch to understand, but I did hear him describe the didgeridoo as “simple, complex, and exact. We forget about these things,” he went on, “but these instruments are here to remind us.” He talked about his “didge conversion,” the awe that a mere hollow tube can do and be this thing!

And then he played. WOW! When I heard him a couple years ago, it was an intimate house concert, acoustic. This time, it was still quite intimate but intricately amplified. It was totally different and… just amazing, that’s all. Amazing!

****

Leraine Horstmanshoff was first to play. I was glad to finally hear her. She’s well-known in the valley and I’m surprised it took so long to meet her after hearing so much about her. She was wonderful! Unique and female. Powerful, evocative, and emotional. She hadn’t brought any CDs, but I will get one at first opportunity. She mixed unexpected instruments – guitar, banjo (!), her voice (more than yelps and trills). She sang in the thing! (Beautiful voice; rich, unforced vibrato) It was tribal, feminine, human. Leraine also briefly demo’d The Micro, and Marko sold three on the spot. Thanks, Leraine!

Leraine Horstmanshoff

Leraine Horstmanshoff

Dan was next, and he’s just a hit. I already introduced you to him, so I won’t elaborate much except to say I like his new stuff, especially on his newer didge tuned to the gyspy scale. He was funny. “This is called ‘The Gypsy,'” he said of it, telling us why. “This is called ‘The Slugger,'” he said of another. “Not because of its harmonics but because…” He trailed off and threw the huge stick over his shoulder, taking the hitter stance.

Dan’s always interesting because he gets into the precision and mathematics of split didge manufacturing. He mentioned his association with Dr. Frank Geipel, the German engineer whose computer program he uses to achieve the exact specifications for each unique didge he dreams up and handcrafts (Computer Aided Didgeridoo Sound Design, CADSD). The audience loved that.

Dan Flynn and "The Big Apple"

Dan Flynn and “The Big Apple”

Stephen Kent added every imaginable percussive accompaniment, and some beyond imagination. He introduced each strange piece, explaining that he searches the world for unusual instruments. I loved his music. He talked about his didge conversion, which took place at The Valley of Winds in Australia, and played the piece that evolved from that night, on an authentic eucalyptus yidaki (a tribal name for didgeridoo) hollowed by termites. (That still blows my mind. This thing, this powerhouse instrument of music and meditation, is not man-made. It’s bigger than us. Makes you feel a “meant-to-be”ness about the world, though I think the universe, while loving, is more random than that.) I got the most satisfying, deep breath I’ve had in years. I have this weird thing where I can’t catch my breath. I have to talk myself off a ledge sometimes when I need that diaphragm-stretching breath and can’t get it. I got it!

Stephen Kent

Stephen Kent

Pithy British humor describes Stephen Kent. He was so fun! The man didn’t miss a beat! He was so quick and playful with a live audience. In the midst of all the laughter and joy, he talked at length about the plight of Aboriginal people and about elders, in general. My participation in Native American practices in recent years has deepened my connection to ancestors. I’d only ever felt connected to my own. Now I feel tied to all who live and who have. I believe that we have access to all consciousness. Everyone in that room felt it, and shared theirs with one another. It was love, magic, fun. You don’t look at the clock when you’re tapped into eternal time. 😉 Stephen closed with a traditional song wanting community participation. That felt good, though I think I’m the kid who could always be heard above the others in primary school, so gleeful am I.

Marko and Dancing Girls... naturally

Marko and Dancing Girls… naturally

Chad Butler, Stephen and Ondrej’s manager, spoke before each. He said, “Whatever the didgeridoo is going to become, it’s happening now.” He elaborated on his point that more and more people are coming to the didge, and the influence of the community is about to shift. There is power and purpose in what we care about. He talked about green and other global concerns and how the didge community seems to be in tune to those kinds of issues and yearns to be a force for change. He was very inspiring about the possibility for success. That’s how I feel. I just feel us “getting it.” Writing that is immediately followed by the question in my mind, “How can you say that?” But I feel it. I think this community is raising children and awareness and even money that will solve many current, urgent problems.

It was an uplifting reminder to act and speak for the planet and for patience with each other. And then Ondrej played.

Ondrej Smeykal

Ondrej Smeykal

Ondrej suggested we turn down the overhead lights. The only option was off. It removed us instantly from a room and took us to a place of simply being. He began with “the ocean” I wrote about before. It was really powerful amplified. That deep breath I got earlier kept rewarding me. I was relaxed and serene.

Then he exploded! Holy shit.

I find it remarkable sometimes that the didge surprises me so. I’m saturated with it, yet I can’t get enough. Five hours! Felt like two. Dance, laughter, connection, festival energy. And stupefying music! How do you even try to describe?

Meanderingly, I suppose. I really enjoyed this show.

OK! I’ll go back to practicing. Ten minutes a day, for the love of all that is holy! I tease. I don’t chide my lack of discipline so much as I celebrate a kick in the pants. I’m happily inspired and motivated anew. Didgeridoo!

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Filed under Aboriginal people, Australia, circular breathing, didge box, didgeridoo, didjbox, Marko Johnson, music, Salt Lake City, The Micro

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