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A visual reimagining of ancient Warlpiri music

Dechlan Brennan -

The following article contains images and names of Indigenous people who have died.

A new book will document the unique perspectives from Warlpiri singers, cultural custodians as well as researchers, all who've worked in Warlpiri communities, in an enthralling and interactive way.

Yuupurnju: A Warlpiri song cycle documents a series of songs within the kurdiji "shield" ceremony.

Sung by the late Warlpiri Elder, Henry Cooke Anderson Jakamarra and recorded at Lajamanu, Northern Territory, in 2013, the songbook covers 38 verses and documents the complexity of classical Warlpiri singing practices.

The song cycle relates to a Jukurrpa Dreaming narrative. It focuses on a group of ancestral women on a journey across the country from Kanakurlangu to the Napperby Creek area.

Jakamarra was a senior Warlpiri knowledge holder, who lived in the Tanami Desert and maintained and taught the traditional Warlpiri knowledge.

To be released in May, the songbook draws together different approaches to understanding the complexities and historical imagery of First Nations music over 136 pages.

An advanced copy shared with National Indigenous Times highlights a plethora of different ideas on musical and performative change, spanning a significant period of time; containing colour photography, visual imagery and reimagining on the page of songlines.

Yuupurnju: A Warlpiri song cycle (Image: supplied)

It features a forward by two senior custodians: Jerry Patrick Jangala OAM and Wanta Jampijinpa, as well as English interpretations of the songs by Jakamarra and Warlpiri Elders Jerry Patrick Jangala, Wanta Stephen Patrick Pawu-Kurlpurlurnu Jampijinpa and Steven Dixon, as well as ethnomusicologist Myfany Turpin and Carmel O'Shannessy.

The songbook also features verses written Walpiri with rhythmic notations; information about Warlpiri music, kinship and Country; a map of significant places related to the Yuupurnju song cycle; full-colour photographs and illustrations for each song; and QR codes to listen to the audio of each song.

In an introduction to the Walpiri song cycles by Turpin and O'Shannessy, they said traditional song cycles formed a part of "foundational Warlpiri beliefs and practices known as Jukurrpa (Dreaming.)"

"The performance of a song cycle is part of ritual actions and events…sung by senior people in ceremonies."

The songs themselves are currently not performed, with Jakamarra one of the few people who knew them. The publisher said in a statement: "He wanted the songs recorded and documented for the Warlpiri community and for the wider public to learn about Warlpiri culture".

The songbook offers a valuable, new and reimagined way to listen and visually imagine the ancient songs from Warlpiri singers, and is a must for anyone interested in protecting, learning and supporting one of the oldest cultures in the world.

Yuupurnju: A Warlpiri Song Cycle by Henry Cooke Jakamarra releases on May 1 through Sydney University Press.

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