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Yothu Yindi

While Yothu 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.

Yothu YindiThe 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.

Ever since '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 career.

Gurrumul Yurupingu, 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'.


Related artists
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu
Paul Kelly
Midnight Oil
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