Yindi are the most successful and internationally recognized of
Australia's aboriginal bands, their importance lies in their fusion
of traditional music and performance with contemporary rock.
name of the band translates as "mother and child", and is essentially
a kinship term used by the Yolngu people of the Northern Territory's
Arnhem Land. The group's central figure Mandawuy Yunupingu and clansman
Witiyana Marika were originally part of the rock band The Swamp
Jockeys with non-aboriginals Cal Williams and Stuart Kellaway. They
gathered other aboriginal musicians and dancers to become Yothu
Yindi, a troupe initially created to perform at cultural events
both in Australia and internationally.
A late 1988
tour supporting Midnight Oil both in Australia and Northern America
brought the band to Sydney where they spent a day recording a demo
tape with Les Kaski. Mushroom Records either thought the tape was
so good it didn't need any more work or decided it was good enough
for aboriginal music, and released the demo as it was, as Yothu
Yindi's first album, 'Homeland Movement'. One side comprised Midnight
Oil-like politicized rock. The other side of the album concentrated
on traditionally based songs like 'Djapana' (Sunset Dreaming), written
by former teacher Mandawuy Yunupingu. Mandawuy's family has a long
and proud tradition in the struggle for aboriginal land rights.
At the beginning
of the 1990s there was political talk of the possibility of a symbolic
treaty between black and white Australians. In an attempt keep the
idea on the political landscape Midnight Oil's Peter Garrett and
Paul Kelly collaborated with Mandawuy on a song called 'Treaty'.
When it was initially released the song hardly created a ripple,
treated as the political statement it was. Melbourne dance remixers
Filthy Lucre (ex-I'm Talking Robert Goodge and Melbourne DJ Gavin
Campbell) decided to work their magic on the song. The version of
'Treaty' which became a dancefloor sensation, took the band into
the sales charts, and raised their profile internationally, turned
the tables on the song's original intention - favouring the musical
message over the political one. 'Treaty's success spread to Yothu
Yindi's second album, 'Tribal Voice'. The impact of 'Treaty' ultimately
saw Mandawuy Yunupingu named 1992 Australian of The Year. There
was no treaty however.
'Treaty', Yothu Yindi has straddled its two music words, traditional
and commercial, with varying success. Initially Mandawuy Yunupingu
used his music profile to further the cause of his 'other' job,
as headmaster of a culturally mixed school in Arnhem Land, but he
ended up being forced to apply for leave to concentrate on his music
who left the band in 1995 to live full-time on Elcho Island subsequently
recorded three albums with the Salt Water Band, and in 2007 released
his critically acclaimed solo album 'Gurrumul'.