For the sake of a song


CD 4, Track 13

TRACK 13 (Mar86-04-s10) Song 5: Benmele

Sung text   Free Translation  
benmele-maka kurratjkurratj ka-bindja nüng(repeated)ii aa mm  Benmele! Cuckoo! He sang for him ii, aa, mm 

‘Benmele’ was composed in reaction to the death of Rusty Benmele Moreen in the early 1980s. Benmele was the adoptive elder brother of Lambudju, and at the time he was the senior singer in this tradition (Benmele can be heard singing on track 4). His death was a major loss to the community. The song describes the channel-billed cuckoo singing to Benmele to call him away to death. The significance of this is that any death announced by a channel-billed cuckoo is seen as a natural death, that is, a death not occasioned by sorcery. The song is essentially a denial of the involvement of any sorcery in Benmele’s death. When this song is explained to children or outsiders, kurratjkurratj is usually glossed as ‘kookaburra’ so as to disguise this more serious meaning. A more detailed account of the various layers of interpretation associated with this song is given in Marett, 2005, pp 192-94.

Somewhat unusually for wangga, vocal sections 1-4 are sung isorhythmically (that is, with the same text syllables set to exactly the same rhythm each time). Lambudju takes a breath at the end of text phrases 2 and 4 leading to a truncation of the text phrase.

Song structure summary


Melodic section 1

Text phrases 1-4

Rhythmic mode 2 (slow even)

benmele  -maka  kurratjkurratj  ka  -bindja  nüng 
benmele  PERF  channel billed cuckoo  3MIN.S.R  sing  3MIN.IO 

Benmele! Cuckoo! He sang for him

Melodic section 2

Text phrase 5

Rhythmic mode 2 (slow even)

ii  aa  mm 

ii, aa, mm


Rhythmic mode 2 (slow even)