Reflections & voices: exploring the music of Yothu Yindi with Mandawuy Yunupingu
Sydney University Press
In the early 1990s, the Australian band Yothu Yindi rose to national prominence with hit songs like 'Treaty' and 'Djäpana' that would become part of Australia's cultural fabric. With its distinctive blend of global popular styles and rare Indigenous traditions from remote Arnhem Land, international acclaim soon followed, as did a swathe of industry awards and the naming of band's main singer and songwriter, Mandawuy Yunupingu, as Australian of the Year for 1992. Yothu Yindi stood as an icon of the Aboriginal Reconciliation movement at a time when Australia's legal and political institutions were starting to recognise their past injustices against Indigenous Australians and the continuing native title over the lands they inhabited. But how well do we know Yothu Yindi and its songs? Or the culture, history and politics of the remote tropical region in Australia's Northern Territory that shaped its musicians and their music?
In Reflections & voices, Aaron Corn takes readers on a captivating journey with Mandawuy Yunupingu through the ideas and events behind some of Yothu Yindi's best known songs. Together they locate the band within a continuum of traditional practice that records the beauty of Arnhem Land as experienced by Mandawuy's ancestors, and has guided local engagements with visitors from across the Arafura Sea for countless centuries. They reveal how Mandawuy's work as an educator and musician championed the continuing importance of traditional Indigenous thought and practice to contemporary life in Australia. Through Yothu Yindi, he inspired an entire generation to rethink Australia's relationship with its First Peoples and to dream of a brighter day when a Treaty with Indigenous Australians will make all the waters one.
Aaron Corn is a Research Fellow in Ethnomusicology and Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Sydney, and with Mandawuy Yunupingu, is a founder of the National Recording Project for Indigenous Performance in Australia.