A little history and problems with popularisation
As we pointed out above and elsewhere, the traditional music of the Top-End of Australia came to the interest of western anthropologists, musicologist and researchers – and with this movement, the yiḏaki started its journey to the Western world. The first researchers, such as A.P.Elkin, T.A.Jones, R.M. and C.H.Berndt, A.Moyle published articles about the wooden blown trumpet of Northern Australia. The first recordings where we can listen to the yiḏaki were released in the ’50s by the same scholars, some of these recordings are still available today.
Later in the ’80s, the yiḏaki played a big role in the popularisation of the didgeridoo. Slowly, with the growing interest in Aboriginal art, the yiḏaki appeared in private and national collections, and became popular among non-Indigenous didgeridoo enthusiasts during the following decades. Several people bought the yiḏaki for its artistic and cultural value, didgeridoo players wanted to own a traditional yiḏaki for its playing qualities, or in preference for their respect towards the tradition of the instrument. Many of these players travelled to Arnhem Land to learn the yiḏaki from Yolŋu, that is still a tendency. In response to these interest – and in the hope, that teaching Yolŋu rom (culture) to balanda (non-Indigenous person or people) will generate respect towards First Nations People -, senior custodians shared their instruments and personal and spiritual sentiments with the outside world. One of these leaders, Djalu’ Gurruwiwi, the senior custodian of his clan yiḏaki, acquired worldwide fame and reputation; Djalu’ also set up his family business to sell yiḏaki and teach balanda. During the same period, the Yolŋu rock band Yothu Yindi hit the music charts, and took the yiḏaki on world tours; the band’s contribution to the popularisation of the yiḏaki has been underestimated.
Today, the yiḏaki is played, enjoyed and shared around worldwide by Indigenous and non-Indigenous music lovers and didgeridoo players – with very little input requested from Yolŋu. Djalu’, the Yothu Yindi band and others proved, that the yiḏaki can be a tool to successfully build bridges between cultures, however, if these efforts do not meet the ‘other side’ with genuine will to learn and understand, this powerful tool turn into a double-edged sword. Cultural colonisation and appropriation cause real concerns within Yolŋu and others – see Yiḏaki Statement, also read our article. Without genuine understanding of the place of the yiḏaki within its culture, the flock of misleading information and damaging stereotypes fly from mouth to mouth, that cause disempowerment, frustration, and deepens the trauma within People of Arnhem Land. In addition to that, the issue affects more than Yolŋu; while yiḏaki became to be the most known traditional didgeridoo type, other type of traditional didgeridoos have not received much attention yet, some of them left to fade away.