Beyond Deep Forest

Issue 

Dyirbal Song Poetry: Traditional songs of an Australian rainforest people
Larrikin through Festival
American Indian Dances
ARC records
Reviewed by Norm Dixon

The songs, music and dances of the world's indigenous peoples have become somewhat trendy in clubland in recent years — as long as the rhythms and songs can be married to a techno beat and other trance-inducing electronic wizardry à la Deep Forest.

And it helps if the makers of the sampled tribal music cannot be located, so that bothersome incidentals like royalty payments and song credits can be dispensed with. Package it nicely with lots of new-age references to indigenous peoples' respect for the Earth and the environment, and expound ad nauseam about their "holistic spirituality" or some such twaddle, and the record company and producers may have a winner.

Fortunately, these CDs do not fall into this category of music industry cynicism. They are less about entertainment (which is not to say they are not entertaining) than they are about enlightenment and respect.

They are reference works that allow the listener to listen to, study and understand the music of indigenous peoples and through it to get a glimpse their societies and values. Each album comes with incredibly detailed liner notes that explain each song, its origins and technical aspects, describe its social and historical setting, and introduce you to the people who made the music.

Recorded between 1963 and 1993, the Dyirbal people of North Queensland sing songs that are part of the oldest literary tradition in the world, having been built up over thousands of years. They describe both emotional and practical aspects of everyday life as well as passing on history and legends. Some may say that songs about fishing or hunting, or about why the dragonfly moves as it does, are mundane, but just compare them to the content of most pop songs and figure out which is the most complex and interesting.

American Indian Dances provides a similar presentation of the dances and music of the tribal peoples of Great Lakes region of North America. The extensive liner notes explain what the dances mean and provide an insight into the social organisation of various tribes.

Compared to the songs of the north Queensland people, the North Americans' dances deal with a much greater range of topics — from hunting and fishing, through war songs and drinking songs, to dances that spell out the roles and obligations of women and men.

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