Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Flesh with Country: Juxtaposition and Minimal Contrast in the Construction and Melodic Treatment of Jadmi Song Texts

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Flesh with Country: Juxtaposition and Minimal Contrast in the Construction and Melodic Treatment of Jadmi Song Texts

Article excerpt

Abstract: For some time researchers of Centralian-style songs have found that compositional and performance practices that guide the construction and musical treatment of song texts have a broader social function. Most recently, Barwick has identified an 'aesthetics of parataxis or juxtaposition' in the design of Warumungu song texts and musical organisation (as well as visual arts and dances), that mirrors social values (such as the skin system) and forms 'inductive space' in which relationships between distinct classes of being, places, and groups of persons are established. Here I set out how juxtaposition and minimal contrast in the construction and melodic treatment of jadmi-type junba texts from the north and north-central Kimberley region similarly create 'inductive space' within which living performers, ancestral beings, and the country to which they are attached, are drawn into dynamic, contiguous relationships.

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Jadmi is a subgenre of junba--a genre of dance-song that is widely performed throughout much of the Kimberley region (Treloyn 2006:4). (1) Junba, described previously in musicological literature by Barwick (1998), Marett (2001), and Treloyn (2003, 2006), is one of many cognate genres in northwestern Australia that share these characteristics: they are public; they are individually owned; they feature singing and dancing accompanied by clapsticks; and, they are usually given to composers in dreams by various spirit beings (also Keogh 1990). In the case of junba, repertories are given to composers by burrunguma--the spirits of deceased relatives--who are considered to be the real composers of the songs and dances. Today, some fifty-three junba repertories are recalled by senior Ngarinyin, Wunambal and Worrorra, twenty-one of which are of the jadmi type. One of the most well known and frequently performed is a repertory of at least thirty-one songs by Scotty Martin, a Brrewargu clan Ngarinyin/Miwa man. Martin is considered the most significant and prolific living junba composer and song-leader, and his repertory forms the basis of the analysis presented here.

Junba repertories are, at the discretion of the composer, transmitted between groups on the system of exchange known as the Wurnan and thereby enable relationships between individuals and their Country to be reinvigorated (Redmond 2001a, 2001b). I outline here how compositional processes, and specifically those based on patterns of juxtaposition and minimal contrast, contribute to this reinvigoration. In the first of three sections, drawing on the work of Redmond, I outline a creative process established in the relationship between two ancestral birds--Wodoi and Jun.gun--who formed the Wurnan, and who represent the Ngarinyin skin system. This process--perhaps most clearly described, after Redmond (2001a:136), as articulating 'difference against a background of similarity'--provides a framework with which to conceptualise juxtaposition and minimal contrast in the construction and melodic treatment of jadmi song texts, which are the subjects of the second and third sections.

Difference against a background of similarity

Ngarinyin individuals attribute all known things, including dambun (clan estates), animal species, plants, and individuals, to one of two exogamous but interdependent moieties: ornod 'bone' and amarlad 'dust' (Redmond 2001a:29-30, 125-6). (2) Wodoi (the Spotted Nightjar) and Jun. gun (the Owlet Nightjar) constitute one pair of animals that designate these moieties (Wodoi represents ornod; Jun.gun represents amarlad). (3) Animal pairs such as these, as Redmond (2001a:125) has observed, are '(often minimally) contrastive': they are different varieties of the same type of animal (that is, Wodoi and Jun.gun are both nightjars, but Wodoi is the Spotted variety and Jun.gun is the Owlet variety). This 'same but different' relationship pervades social institutions that are based on the skin system. …

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