Sydney University Press
Joint winner of the traditional music award at the 2007 NT Indigenous Music Awards!!
Kun-borrk is a genre of individually owned songs accompanied by didjeridu and clapsticks performed in the western Arnhem Land region of the Northern Territory. The songs on this CD represent the majority of a repertoire belonging to the song man Kevin Djimarr, a member of the Kurulk clan and the Kuninjku (Eastern Kunwinjku) language group. Djimarr has lived much of his life at Mumeka on the lower Mann River, a tributary of the Liverpool River about 50km south of Maningrida settlement. He is one of a number of celebrated Kun-borrksingers but in addition he is also renowned as a traditional healer or 'clever man' known as na-kordang in Kuninjku.
Kun-borrk song series are often named after vegetable foods or plants. The name of Djimarr's series is Wurrurrumi, which is the name of a climbing monsoon forest vine Tinospora smilacina. Some other song series by other singers are named after yams, other climbing vines with tubers, or spirit beings.
Unlike the totemic song genres of many other ceremonies in Arnhem Land, kun-borrk songs concentrate more on the episodic minutiae of human emotions, subtle physical movements of the body, conflicts, suspicions, and the gossip of interpersonal relationships. An examination of the song texts on this CD reveals an almost haiku-like poetic beauty. Small isolated incidents without any given context are presented in a few lines of a song. They might involve a wave, a gaze, the turning of the head or attention to a sound, an admonition or a complaint.
Kun-borrk song texts do not fit the stereotype of the popularised notion of 'song lines' with individual songs relating to tracts of land or sites along a route taken by ancestral creation heroes. The texts rarely say anything about individual places (although for an exception see track 32) and except for a small number of songs in a special unknown spirit or animal language (e.g. track 4), the song texts are otherwise in ordinary Kuninjku with the literal translatability being completely transparent (although the contextual meaning may appear allusive).
Kun-borrk songs are also often referred to as gossip songs or love songs because many of the topics of the songs are concerned with oblique references to romantic relationships and affairs. One way that kun-borrk song men make indirect references to risqué or even illicit behaviour by lovers is to place the characters of real life dramas into the guise of other beings such as the spirit beings known as wayarra. So whilst at the literal level the song man might say that the text is about the wayarra and their incorrigible behaviour, the songs are really about actual people in the camp and what they have been getting up to, including activities that others might find hilariously funny or 'naughty'. Thus the term 'gossip songs'.
Many of Djimarr's songs in the Wurrurrumi series are, however, strictly about the activities of wayarra spirits. This may be a result of his ability as a 'clever man' or traditional healer, as it is believed that the wayarra can endow humans with the power to heal. In Kuninjku cosmology wayarra live inside the hollow trunks of certain trees. They have a fascination with spear grass and they examine the stems of the grass to identify each and every growth node starting at the bottom and exclaiming when they reach the top kondanj kanganjboke 'here it is coming into seed'.