“I travelled to Barunga in June 2018 with Andrew Belletty. He is of South Asian descent, moved to Darwin when he was a small boy and, inspired by punk, drummed in local band The Swamp Jockeys, before joining up with some young Yolngu musicians and activists from East Arnhem Land, to become Yothu Yindi, the first nationally popular Aboriginal rock band. On their 1990 debut Homeland Movement and in early shows, anthemic rock songs were juxtaposed with short sections of traditional public song and dance performances -effectively a montage of pop and experimental traditional sounds. But what to many sounds like experiment, to Yolngu people sounds like tradition… But within the context of the Yolngu struggle for self -determination, the juxtaposition of traditional and punk sounds by Dr M Yunupingu and the other members of Yothu Yindi was a conscious attempt at creating a new kind of sonic space in which indigenous life might thrive or at least survive.
Belletty left the band after their first LP but has since pursued a fascinating trajectory recording indigenous sounds for film and multimedia works and doing sound workshops in aboriginal communities… Belletty emphasises the importance of the vibration, and direct experience, of the land: the impact of dancing feet on sand, the land itself coming up through song, voice, yidaki and bilma (clapsticks). ‘”Listening to country’ for many Aboriginal people,” says Belletty on this theme of place, “extends beyond audibility, into sub-audible and vibrotactile energies, creating a complex and grounded notion of sound, perception and connection to the environment. “Song and dance vibrations permeate bodies within country,” he continues. “Expressing themselves physically through natural topographies, ceremony and art. Aboriginal song and dance practices make deep, intimate connections to specific ‘country’ through highly trans-sensory attention and activation of place. The performances have a physicality, they emerge out of country, are carried by custodians, and are put back into the country. These vibrational aspects of song and dance transform and heal people and country, through repeated practice over a time unimaginable in Western cultures.” To put it another way, the senses themselves have been colonised, leaving us with sound; beyond, before, j during an aboriginal bungul, a world of vibrational …, intensity, energetic flows- not as a fragment of the “‘ distant past, but as pulsating flash of the living now.”