Tiwi Songs

Creative Research on Tiwi Songs

Dr Genevieve Campbell, Honorary Associate, PARADISEC, Sydney Conservatorium of Music

This project, funded by the Red Cross and aimed at Tiwi children and youth, involves elders using repatriated song recordings as the starting point for story telling and sharing of culturally significant knowledge, endangered language and genealogical information as well as being the focus of new music created digitally by young Tiwi people, sampling, editing and adding to the old recordings to produce “dance track” versions of their own identifying Dreaming song.

Funded by the Australia Council, work has also begun on corpus of new music produced by Ngarukuruwala – We Sing Songs. Along the lines of the “memorial duets” album in which the recorded voice of a deceased singer is re-engineered with a contemporary performer to produce a new version, we will create a series of duets and small ensembles, each including one old recording. With ethnographic Tiwi recordings (repatriated to the community from the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra) as the source material, we will produce music that reflects the musical, poetic and emotional response of each artist to the recording they are working with.

The return of these recordings to the Tiwi community has played an important role in the rejuvenation of song practice and connecting young Tiwi people with their culture. This project seeks to take that connection one step further, by engaging senior singers and young Tiwi adults (who have shown an interest in being initiated as singers into song practice) in a one-on-one relationship with specific recorded ancestral voices. The process of working with one recording will focus attention on the artistic nuances in the old performance, as inspiration and for educational benefit in the Tiwi community.

The body of work will form a musical narrative that will also be performed live, and a series of performances is planned that incorporates seminar style presentation and discussion on the source material given by the Tiwi singers as well as discussion of the role of improvisation in both Tiwi song practice and western jazz, from the point of view of each artist’s musical background and training.

Genevieve Campbell biography

I have worked for 20 years as a professional French Horn player. In 2007 I became involved with a group of senior song-women on the Tiwi Islands, NT and together we instigated Ngarukuruwala – We Sing Songs, a musical collaboration based on traditional Tiwi songs and involving jazz musicians from Sydney. My professional interest in Tiwi music in the context of contemporary performance and the similarities between Tiwi improvisation and western jazz led to my embarking on musicological research. The desire to be part of the rediscovery and preservation of old Tiwi songs have resulted in my close involvement with the repatriation to the Tiwi community of ethnographic field recordings of Tiwi ceremony and song. My doctoral research included the collation of metadata associated with recorded Tiwi song material 1912-1981, working with senior Tiwi individuals on specific songs (at their request) to create detailed music and text transcriptions, transliterations in spoken Tiwi and translation into English and assisting with transcribing language from recorded song examples for addition to a long-term project to establish a resource of kinship songs required for Tiwi ceremony. My area of interest is two-fold: the role of song in the preservation of language and cultural well-being of the Tiwi Islands, and how repatriated recordings can be used to preserve song traditions while also developing new forms of culturally relevant music making.