Called Mago in this region, they follow the tradition made famous by Beswick’s mago master, elder David Blanasi. Djilpin didjeridus are hand-cut from the woolybutt tree and they have been hollowed-out naturally by termites.
If you look inside our didjeridus you’ll see the interior is a bit rough where the termites have been at work – a smooth interior is a sign of machine drilling. These high quality musical instruments are used in ceremony and performance, and they feature traditional designs that have been handed painted with a grass brush. The mouthpieces are made with locally harvested ‘sugar-bag’ wax from native bees. Djilpin artists travel considerable distances on foot to find the just right woolybutt tree. The best specimens are hand-cut and taken back to camp to be worked, shaped, sanded, tuned and painted.
Most of our didjeridus are high pitch D, low pitch D, F, C or G. The longer the dij the lower the pitch, a shorter dij will give a higher sound.
The designs on Djilpin didjeridus are very intricately painted in the fine cross-hatching style known as rarrk. The artist’s brush is made with a single thin flexible grass stalk that is inserted into a small piece of wood to make it easier to hold. The artwork tells many stories, some traditional and some contemporary. Some of the common subjects painted on didjeridus are file snakes, barramundi, turtles, small fish, bush potato and water lilies.
Sugar Bag Wax
The playing end of a didjeridu can be very dry and splintery so sugar bag (native honey) wax is used to make a mouthpiece. This wax also molds to your mouth making a more comfortable seal so that your air is used more efficiently when playing.
Harvesting wax involves locating the sugar bag bee out in the bush and then following it to the hive which might be in a tree, around rocks or underground. Once the hive has been cut down or dug up, the delicate sweet dark honey is squeezed from the wax. The remaining wax is drained, cleaned and then ready for many different uses.
Playing the Didjeridu
The best way to store your dij is on a stand, not against the wall because the wax will stick it to the wall. A stand is very simple to make – take a square of wood and fix a piece of dowel in the middle, then sit your dij over the dowel.
The didjeridu is an ancient drone’ instrument used for millennia by Aboriginal people to carry traditional songs.
‘We play with remembrance for the old people, we play on special days. Sometimes when people die we have sorry day singing corroboree in the camp. A bambu is not used to celebrate marriage, it is more used for opening days and also played for fun. You must practice. Kids can play dij but women shouldn’t because they get pregnant. No young girls are allowed to play because they get pregnant too fast. In the olden days they danced with it a lot, we still do that, it is the spiritual side of it’.
Micky Hall, Djieridu Craftsman
Breathing has been used as a healing art for thousands of years. Meditation uses certain types of breathing to relax and re-energize the body. Playing a dij has the same effect on your wellbeing. The vibrations of the didjeridu are said to stimulate the chakras, which are the energy points in the body. It is the vibration of these points that help you really enjoy the instrument, whether you are playing it or listening to it. Sound therapists use the didjeridu for healing. As well as being great fun, it also increases your lung capacity and your mental and physical well being.
- Relax, relax, relax. The more relaxed you are the more likely you are to make a sound.
- Stand or sit with the mouthpiece at the height of your mouth. If you curl your body over the instrument you close off your lungs and cannot breathe properly and any sounds you make will be thin.
- The dij is a sound box that amplifies the sounds you are making. It will not give you a good sound if you muffle the end in carpet. Sometimes, when you are learning it is useful to play in a corner so the sound comes back at you and you can hear what sounds you make as you are doing different things.
- Use one or both hands to hold your instrument, depending on the weight and how you want to play it. If you are lifting it up as you play you will need to use two hands. If you are right handed use your left hand to hold loosely near the mouthpiece and grip well with your right hand as far down the body of the instrument as you can.
- Hold your lips loosely, with your bottom lip pouted a bit as if you were going to blow a ‘raspberry’ with your cheeks puffed up, like little kids do when they are making a car noise. It takes a while to develop the muscles that you need for playing well.
- Your tongue has to help you. You put it in the front of your mouth, relax and loosen it then and flick it up and down to regulate the sound.
- Your lips don’t move, they stay close together on the wax, your tongue and your breathing do the job. You can blow out of the sides of your mouth if you want to, but mostly you blow gently through lips that are close together and a little open. Keep your lips stuck on the wax to make a seal and relaxed enough to vibrate.
- Circular breathing is like breathing while swimming, breathe steadily in through your nose and out through your mouth. It is much easier to play if you try to keep your lungs half full, that way you don’t run out of air.