Darryl is one of the senior artists and Mago (Didjeridu) master
of The White Cockatoo Performing Group. Darryl was born at
the Mudginberri outstation near Ubirr rock in what is now
the Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia.
He grew up at the Gochanjinyjirra outstation near the Maningrida
community in Western Arnhem Land. The languages Darryl speaks
include Mayali and Kuninjku, and his social affiliation or
moiety is Yirritja.
Dikarrna: 'I first started playing the Mago at the age of
six. My grandfather (the legendary "Mago master",
David Blanasi, the "White Cockatoo") came to Maningrida
for business and festivals and I listened to him playing and
picked that style. One day my grandfather asked if there were
any young boys playing that Mago Buyngaliyn Buyngaliyn way
(see Kunborrk, below) and they called my (skin) name. I was
seven years old.'
was playing Mago beside that old Junggayi (Law Man), David
Yirindilli, at the ceremony making young man business (initiation)
and all of those elders were sitting down listening including
my Grandfather. He was listening and said, "I'm getting
old and I want someone to take over so I will hand this one
on to you son, you play very well, so one day I will hand
this Mago business over to you. You will take over from me."'
the year 2000, when we were driving down to Adelaide, he said,
"well young man, now I give you permission. So you can
take over this Mago business now." I've got his word
in my mind.'
this way David Blanasi, the greatest exponent of the Kunborrk
tradition in living memory, appointed Darryl as his successor.
As such, Darryl is the latest representative of a line of
Mago masters believed by many to span millennia, and is heir
to the cultural knowledge and practices of the world's oldest
unbroken artistic tradition. Through Darryl's active participation
in ceremonies at home, and performance, composition and teaching
abroad, the Kunborrk tradition continues to flourish in the
This instrument (the didjeridu) is known as Mago in the Mayali
language group of Western and Southern Arnhem Land. In Mayali,
the word Mago also means night bird, or Owl. Darryl's home,
Western Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia,
is the original birthplace of the Mago.
Despite the prominence of the Mago it is the songmen who own
and create the songs and decide what kind of accompaniment
the Mago player will provide. The focus on the Mago is purely
a Western preoccupation. Within traditional culture the songmen
are considered the more important members of any music ensemble.
The Kunborrk (alt. spelling Gunborg) song tradition originates
from the Western Arnhem region. This style is characterized
by a continual drone of the Mago. The drone is syncopated
in time with the songmen who set the tempo by playing Mannbelinj
(Mayali) or clap sticks.
Dikarrna: "There is a big mob different Kunborrk. There
is the Yirritja Buyngaliyn Buyngaliyn style. That's a little
bit rough." (meaning it is very vigorous. Perhaps the
greatest exponent of this 'rough' style was Darryl's virtuoso
grandfather 'The Bomb' David Blanasi, "I play straight
out! No muckin' around!")
Kunborrk is the Dhuwa Moiety Mimi (Earth Spirit) style from
the Maningrida region and the Dhuwa Manngalinj (Sacred Yam)
style also from Maningrida. "These ones are not so rough."'
is an enormous classical tradition that musicologists and
linguists are just starting to describe. Understanding the
Mago accompaniment to particular songs is a complex process
of learning from childhood, and this short introductory disc
can show Western Mago players only a few of the tradition's
remains to be learned about the deeper structural processes
which govern composition and improvisation in this classical
tradition, and until further research is undertaken Westerners
cannot presume any more than a superficial acquaintance with
the art form. Mastering a few Mago basics can never be a substitute
for the kind of understanding that comes from many years of
education from within traditional indigenous culture. It is
not possible to acquire a deep intuitive appreciation for
the aesthetics of good Kunborrk accompaniment simply by amassing
more didjeridu playing techniques.
is no objection to players who "make their own style"
but Western practitioners who assimilate a few preliminaries
in a particular traditional style and then think they are
just as good as traditional indigenous Kunborrk artists, for
example, are both deluding themselves and misrepresenting
this venerable tradition to the world at large.
Dikarrna: '"I do my own style. I am a traditional Kunborrk
player but I don't pinch my Grandfather's style, I play my
own way, no animal calls. 'You mob listening to this CD, do
your own style too. You have to find your own way. You can't
be one of us, you have to find your own way."'
Mago master Darryl Dikarrna Brown (spoken in Mayali and
then in English)
talks about his famous grandfather, "The Bomb", David
talks about the Mago
made that Mago
Yirindilli tells the story of how the Mimi spirits first
made the Mago. Mimi spirits are earth spirits who live
droning sound of the Mago has been transcribed here as
"Di Ta Mor." This English transliteration is approximate
only, as the phonology of the indigenous languages spoken
in Arnhem Land differs considerably from that of Indo-European
languages. When playing Darryl does not use his vocal
chords to augment the drone. The Di Ta Mor is not actually
spoken or vocalized. Also when describing tongue positions
we must be careful not to assume automatically those positions
familiar to speakers of European languages. Darryl: "When
you start playing Mago, start with Di. The first sound
with my tongue and my belly... Di" The Di sound is accompanied
by pushing up hard with the diaphragm to expel the air
very forcibly. "I push up, really hard (with my belly),
that way I make a good sound." Di: tongue goes forward
tongue goes up
Ta Mor (breathe through nose)
Ta Mor (Breath) Di Ta Mor (Breath) Di Ta Mor (Breath):
continue using circular breathing. "Di Ta Mor" is the
first basic building block of Kunborrk playing, and is
also referred to below as the single breath. Darryl: "Your
belly goes up and down... you push with your belly...
push in." (diaphragm) Tongue Positions when playing Di
Ta Mor- Darryl's notes: Your tongue goes out and in and
up. Di: tongue goes forward - straight. Ta: up. Mor: down
takes a single quick breath as he is playing the Di Ta
Mor drone. Darryl: "You make that breath the same time
as you say Mor." (or at the end of Mor) Di Ta Mor (Breathe
through nose once): This is described as the single breath.
In this track a microphone has been placed close to Darryl's
nose so we can hear when he takes this single quick breath.
#1 Gudek The Goanna
"I am going to play single breath Kunborrk style."
along with Gudek
same song, this time without the Mago. Darryl: "I want
to listen to you play with just my boys and I'm not there.
I want you to play along. I want to listen to Di Ta Mor.
Follow that stick."
Ta Mor, varying tempi
demonstrates the Di Ta Mor played slow and then played
a little bit faster. Then the Di Ta Mor is played with
the tempi mixed, first faster and then slow and then a
bit faster again.
#2 Manngalinj (Mayali) The Yam or bush potato
is the second example of a song in which Darryl plays
using the single breath "Di Ta Mor" Kunborrk technique.
along with Manngalinj
same song, this time without the Mago. Darryl: "You play
so I can listen... single breath Di Ta Mor."
and Darryl discuss the single breath. Song #3 Mimi Spirit
David Yirindilli's pronunciation/interpretation of the
Di Ta Mor sound during their discussion. David: "There's
two kind of tunes (meaning single breath and double breath)...
(sings) Di Ta Mor... that straight that one (sings) Di
Ta Mor... he's down... that one he still not gets up yet."
Darryl: "It's not double breath but just the one way."
Song #3 Mimi Spirit. David: "This song... you got a short
leg Mimi." This is the third example of single breath
"Di Ta Mor" Kunborrk playing. Note that in this third
example the single breath is played very fast! Here, as
David Yirindilli might put it, the single breath is really
starting to "get up!"
Di Ta Mor-Debor is the second basic Kunborrk rhythm and
is referred to here as the double breath. Here two very
short breaths are taken whilst playing the drone. Play
Di Ta Mor (quick breath through the nose) Debor (quick
breath through the nose) Di Ta Mor (breath)-Debor (breath)
Di Ta Mor (breath)-Debor (breath) Di Ta Mor (breath)-Debor
(breath) continue circular breathing. In this track a
microphone has been placed close to Darryl's nose so we
can hear when he takes these two very quick breaths whilst
technique demonstrated at a slow tempo. Darryl's notes
for the tongue position when playing "double breath":
Di - tongue goes forward-straight, Ta - up, Mor - down
and forward, Debor - straight.
#4 Two Days' Sleep
is the first example of a song that features Darryl's
double breath "Di Ta Mor-debor" Kunborrk playing. At the
start of the song Darryl plays single breath, and then
goes into the double just after the sticks start. Now
Darryl plays double breath quite fast. As you will appreciate
the level of difficulty is increasing. Playing at this
speed requires a high level of competence.
along with Two Days' Sleep
same song, this time without the Mago. Darryl: "So it's
double breath ("Di Ta Mor-Debor"). Two Days' Sleep and
I'm not there, I want you to play.
#5 Muk Muk The Owl
"Muk Muk makes same sound like Mago." This is the second
example of double breath "Di Ta Mor-Debor" Kunborrk playing.
At the start of the song, once again Darryl plays single
breath and then goes into the double, this time a fast
double breath, just before the sticks start. Also in this
song, (and in many other songs as well) we can hear some
single breath technique mixed in with the double breath.
This occurs where the sticks slow down in the middle of
the song and at the very end. Tracks 23, 24, 25 and 26
explore Darryl's free use of both the single and double
breath techniques, as he follows the changing tempo of
the rhythm sticks.
along with Muk Muk
The same song, this time without the Mago. Darryl: "Now
that Muk Muk song, it's double breath and my boys playing
and I'm not there, so you play." (Fast double breath)
breath, varying tempi
breath played at first quite slow, then a bit faster,
then slow and then faster again.
breath and double breath mixed
breath followed by double, then single again, followed
by double, then single again.
Mannbelinj, the rhythm sticks
"You follow that rhythm stick and the rhythm stick will
follow you. Where I see that rhythm stick stop... then
I stop... same time... we stop together. This sshort section
is from the end of song #1, Gudek. It is an example of
a cadential (ending) device that is frequently used in
this particular kind of Kunborrk. Here Darryl freely uses
both the single and double breath techniques together
as he follows the changing tempo of the rhythm sticks.
We may now begin to understand how these basic techniques
can be woven into a complex pattern where all or any part
of an element can be used.
Ta Mor and Di Ta Mor-Debor, Sung
same final section of Gudek with Darryl singing a version
of the rhythm part without the Mago or Mannbelinj. Di
Ta Mor- Di Ta Mor- Di Ta Mor- Di Ta Mor- Di Ta Mor- Di
Ta Mor, Di Ta Mor-Debor- Di Ta Mor-Debor-Debor- Di-Di
Ta Mor-Di, Di Ta Mor-Di Ta Mor- Di Ta Mor-Debor- Di Ta
breath and double breath interwoven
same section of Gudek once again, this time with Mago
Mago part sung and then played
same section of Gudek with Darryl singing a slightly different
variation of the Mago part. Di Ta Mor- Di Ta Mor- Di Ta
Mor- Di Ta Mor- Di Ta Mor- Di Ta Mor- Di Ta Mor, Di Ta
Mor- Di Ta Mor-Debor- Di Ta Mor-Debor-Debor- Di-Di Ta
Mor-Di, Di Ta Mor- Di Ta Mor- Di Ta Mor-Debor- Di Ta Mor-Di
go to listen to that Devil
Yirindilli tells us how some people find songs and their
respective Mago accompaniments. "People had a dreaming...
the spirit... for that (taps Mago) what I told before...
the spirit... when you have your new body. 'Take that
man and... bury him up. You got think that man like old
black fella... to follow in that funeral... by yourself...
and stay there with him... night time... no light... no
moon... you've got to stay there in the dark and you've
got to listen there to that man where he is buried...
for this didjeridu... for this singing... you've got to
listen which song you're going to get from him... he'll
get up that man... from that hole... and you've got to
listen to that man now... and you can't look... like blackfella
walking... It's a spirit... you know all those spirits?...
that's a devil... That's where our people... they get
from there... you've got listen to that man... follow
bamboo (Mago)... that devil... and then you'll know where
that song has got to go for him... and you've got to pick
that song, bamboo (Mago) and put it here in your head,
mind... and you can't sing straight away, you've got to
sing next year.'"
talks about where the first Mago came from
place with special water that makes you "clever" (bestows
powers or abilities). Darryl: "Big mob dreaming there."