The Yiḏaki – A traditional didgeridoo from the land of Northeast Arnhem
For the pronunciation of the special characters see or guide.
The yiḏaki sprouts from a certain type of the didgeridoo family, made and played in the Northern Territory of Australia, in Northeast Arnhem Land. The origin of the instrument is engraved in the ancient stories of various clan groups, who live in the area for thousands of years, and are called Yolŋu (meaning person). All the Yolŋu clans connected through shared religious beliefs, ancient traditional system of law, history, affiliation over their land, and marriage systems. Every clan speak their own language, have their own songs and ceremonial tradition, patterns, design and symbols they use on paintings. Also, they have their own unique type of yiḏaki that are crafted for their specific songs and passed through generations. What makes this type of didgeridoo special and particular, is the relationship of the Yolŋu clans to their yiḏaki, which is intertwined on deep spiritual beliefs. They have one of the longest didgeridoo playing tradition that is unbroken, and exists for thousands of years.
The yiḏaki is made from two to three kinds of eucalyptus species, which are endemic to the region, most commonly from stringybark (Eucalyptus tetrodonta). The Yolŋu craftsmen comb the area for the trees, which have been hollowed by termites. They knock the tree and look for the deep hollow sound; after the tree is cut down, they decide whether the size and shape of the hole along the hollow log is good for the didgeridoo. They clean out what the termites left in the tube and play it to listen to its resonance and sound. If it is according to their expectations, they chisel and rasp the bottom end if it is required to achieve the preferred conical internal aperture. Eventually the craftsmen pull the bark off, shape and sand the outside and most of the times paint it with traditional painting of the clan’s design. Some clans create the yiḏaki in accordance to their own style and traditional expectations. Hence, due to this colourful and culturally rich tradition, each yiḏaki is different and particular in its own style.
The Yolŋu clans are able to trace back the use of the yiḏaki for thousands of years, since the dawn of time. During this span of time, a playing technique had been developed to accompany their traditional songs and dances. This typified technique produced different adaptation of playing, which was essential in its constant change due to the incessant evolution of musical needs, ideas and expectations. We can tune in to the `old style` of playing on different field recordings from the `50s and `70s, where instruments in lower musical keys were common. These days the higher pitched yiḏaki and fast playing styles are preferred, that the older generation calls yuṯa style, or new style. As always, the musical demand specifies the physical appearance of the instruments.
There are substantial amounts of information about the yiḏaki circulated around, many of which are false and misleading. Many didgeridoo enthusiasts use the name `yiḏaki` inaccurately. According to them the term is used to refer to a didgeridoo with superb playing qualities and sound, which is partly fitting. Considering the long history of the yiḏaki, which dates back to thousands of years of craftsmanship, skills and expertise developed since the first yiḏaki was made, these instruments bear the finest qualities – although not every instrument is the same, nor their craftsmen. Strictly speaking, the world ‘yiḏaki’ refers to the traditional didgeridoos, that are made by an Aboriginal person of Northeast Arnhem Land.
It is important to emphasise that the yiḏaki (and its name) is the cultural property of the Yolŋu clan-groups; creating the yiḏaki and playing it in clan songs is limited to the traditional custodians of the instrument only.
The yiḏaki became popular among the non-Indigenous didgeridoo enthusiasts during the last two decades or so. Several people bought the yiḏaki for its artistic and/or cultural value. On the other hand, numerous didgeridoo players would like to get hold of a traditional yiḏaki for its playing qualities, or in preference for their respect towards the tradition of the instrument. Today, the yiḏaki is played and enjoyed worldwide by music lovers and didgeridoo players.
To play the yiḏaki in a traditional style is possibly one of the hardest playing styles to master. To produce the `proper sound` is essential for the yiḏaki to be played in a traditional style, that allows the player to reach the real potential of these instruments.
To learn the technique takes lots of effort even for those who are already familiar with the basics of playing the didgeridoo. As the traditional style of playing differs from the contemporary style, it is vital and essential to learn and master the basics of this particular technique. We strongly recommend, that anyone who wishes to learn about the so called `yiḏaki playing style`, research thoroughly and learn from the traditional custodians of the instrument. There are a very few available teaching materials for those, who are unable to meet the Yolŋu players in person. We have listed some useful and `must read and/or listen` resources below.
- Yidaki Story – an extensive work on the yiḏaki played in Northeast Arnhem Land
- iDidj Australia – a didgeridoo database and resource centre
- also check the iDidj Australia`s Youtube Channel
- Manikay.com – learn about the traditional music of Arnhem Land
- M. Munnungurr – Hard Tongue Didgeridoo teaching CD available for download here
Credit for the video goes to iDidj Australia.
See our available yidakis here: