For the sake of a song

Happy (lerri) Song No. 6

CD 3, Track 14

TRACK 14 (Mar88-42-s05) Song 11: Happy (lerri) Song No. 6

Like the preceding track, this song has a purely vocable text and is performed at faster tempo than usual, although here the beating is in the uneven quadruple rhythmic mode.

Music analysis of Mandji’s repertory

Because this repertory was not analysed in Songs, dreamings and ghosts here we provide additional detail on Mandji’s musical style. This section of the chapter provides an overview of Mandji’s use of song structure, textual variation, rhythmic mode and melodic mode across his repertory, as well as additional musical detail on some of the tracks.

Song structure overview

Like most wangga songs, those of Billy Mandji alternate vocal and instrumental sections. Some of his performances, particularly those recorded by Alice Moyle at the tourist corroboree in 1968, have, like those of Muluk recorded on the same occasion, a particularly large number of vocal sections, for example, ‘Happy Song No. 2’ (track 5) has 10 vocal sections, ‘Duwun Crab Song’ (track 7) has 12, and Mandji’s version of Muluk’s ‘Puliki’ (chapter 4, track 2) has 17.

Text structure overview

Overall, the majority of Mandji’s text phrases are in non-human language. Since he did not live in the country of his Marri Tjavin ancestors, Mandji would not have been in a position to receive songs from them on a regular basis, since, as noted in chapter 4 with regard to Barrtjap, song-giving ancestors do not travel far from their country-based sites. Except for the mixed Emmi and Marri Tjavin in ‘Karra Mele Ngany-endheni-nö’, all the human language text in Mandji’s songs is in Emmi. We know that Mandji inherited songs from the Emmiyangal songmen, Robert Man.guna and his brothers, and we might reasonably assume that the songs with text in Emmi came from them. The predominance of vocable text phrases in Mandji’s own songs might result from the fact that Mandji could neither receive texts in the language of his ancestors, nor translate them into the language of song-giving agents local to the area around Belyuen, where he had chosen to live. On the other hand, songs with vocable texts that are opaque to all participants in ritual may serve a useful function in a multilingual environment precisely because they do not privilege the language of any one group, as Barwick has observed with regard to songs in Western Arnhem Land, (Manmurulu, et al., 2008). Belyuen was, at the time Mandji was composing his songs, just such a multilingual environment.

Texts that comprise three text phrases, the first two of which are identical and the third different, are common in the songs of Billy Mandji; indeed all six songs for which we have obtained texts conform to this pattern. Three—‘Happy Song No. 1’, (track 4), ‘Duwun Crab Song’ (track 7) and ‘Karra Mele Ngany-endheni-nö’ (track 8)—have text in the form aaB, that is, a pair of text phrases in vocables (ghost language, indicated by lower case) followed by a text phrase in human language (indicated by upper case). In the first two songs the human language is Emmi, but in ‘Karra Mele Ngany-endheni-nö’ Mandji alternates between Mendhe and Marri Tjavin in successive vocal sections, and in this song the text phrase in human language is unusually long. In ‘Duwun’ a pair of text phrases in ghost language are followed by a second pair in Emmi (aaBC). Three further songs, ‘Duwun’ (Indian Island), (tracks 1 and 2) ‘Happy Song No. 2’, (track 5) and ‘Song from Anson Bay’ (tracks 9 and 10) have text phrases that are entirely in vocables in the form aab, and ‘Happy Song No. 5’, (track 13), although not transcribed, also clearly conforms to the aab form.

This common structure in Mandji’s repertory is comparable to that labelled Group 2 in the Walakandha wangga repertory (Marett, 2005, p 122). Here each vocal section comprises three text phrases, the first two of which are identical and the third different. The form of these Walakandha wangga Group 2B songs can be represented as AAb, where upper case letters represent text in human language (Marri Tjavin) and lower case represents text using vocables (ghost language).

It may not be entirely coincidental that Billy Mandji’s song texts conform to a pattern that is also prominent in the principal Marri Tjavin repertory, the Walakandha wangga. Let us not forget that although he lived much of his life at Belyuen, Mandji was Marri Tjavin and maintained links with his Marrit Tjevin kin living at Wadeye and its associated outstations. On the other hand, since two of the three Mandji texts with the form aaB have Emmi as the language of the human language text phrase, we cannot tie the AAB form only to Marri Tjavin precedents, or see it as strongly marking Mandji’s Marri Tjavin heritage.

Rhythmic mode overview

None of Billy Mandji’s vocal sections are entirely without clapstick beating (rhythmic mode 1). Neither are any songs entirely in rhythmic mode 2 (slow even). Rather, three songs use a combination of rhythmic modes 1 and 2 (without clapsticks and slow even beating respectively) for their vocal sections (see table 6.2).

Tempo band of vocal section  Song title  Rhythmic mode of VS  Rhythmic mode of IIS  Rhythmic mode of FIS 
Without clapsticks/Slow (46-48 bpm)  ‘Duwun’ (Indian Island) (tracks 1-2)  2+1-2+1  5c (Belyuen) 5a (Peppi)  5c (Belyuen)5b (Peppi) 
‘Duwun Crab Song’ (track 7)  2+1  Ø  4e  
‘Karra Mele Ngany-endheni-nö’ (track 8)  2+1  4a  4e  
Moderate (110-116 bpm)  ‘Song from Anson Bay’ (tracks 9-10)  4b (var), 4b  4b   4b 
‘Happy Song No. 4’ (track 12)   4c (VS1), 4a (VS2-4)  4c, 4a  4a 
Fast (130–40 bpm)  ‘Happy Song No. 1’ (tracks 3-4)  5a (VS1-2), 5a (var)+5a (VS3-5)  5a  5a 
‘Happy Song No. 2’ (track 5)   5a (var)+5a, 5a  5a  5a 
‘Happy Song No. 3’ (track 6)  5a  5a  5a 
‘Robert Man.guna’s Song’ (track 11)  5a  5a  5a 
10  ‘Happy Song No. 5’ (track 13)  5a  5a  5a 
11  ‘Happy Song No. 6’ (track 14)  5c  5c  5c 

Table 6.2 Rhythmic modes in Billy Mandji’s repertory (Final IS is bold when different). VS = vocal section, IIS = internal instrumental section, FIS = final instrumental section. Commas indicate successive vocal or instrumental sections in sequence through the song, where these are different. Plus signs indicate sequences of rhythmic modes occurring within a section. Names of performers in brackets.

Distribution of rhythmic mode between vocal sections and instrumental sections

All songs in the fast and moderate tempo band use the tempo (and usually the same rhythmic mode) for both the vocal and instrumental sections and have texts that are stable and predictable. They are wonderful vehicles for vigorous and often ostentatious dancing, and are for this reason are very popular. The repertory contains a large number of ‘happy’ (lerri) songs, that is, lively songs with texts comprised mostly of vocables. These are mostly in the fast tempo band, but one (‘Happy Song No. 4’, track 12) is in the moderate tempo band.

As we observed in Barrtjap’s repertory, a high proportion of songs have vocal sections in the fast tempo band. In Mandji’s repertory, the majority are in the fast even rhythmic mode (5a), while only one, ‘Happy Song No. 6’, (track 14) uses the fast uneven (quadruple) rhythmic mode (rhythmic mode 5c) preferred in Barrtjap’s repertory.

Presenting the same text in different rhythmic modes in different vocal sections within an item

Both moderate tempo songs show variation across vocal sections within an item in their use of rhythmic mode. ‘Happy Song No. 4’, (track 12) uses the unusual uneven (triple) beating (rhythmic mode 4c) for vocal section 1 and the following instrumental section, and then even beating (rhythmic mode 4a) for the remaining vocal and instrumental sections, while the first item of ‘Song from Anson Bay’ (tracks 9), uses an unusual suspended form of rhythmic mode 4b (var) in the first vocal section only, with rhythmic mode 4b (moderate uneven quadruple) being used for the rest of the item and throughout the following item (track 10).

Variation in rhythmic mode between vocal sections according to their position within an item can also be found in ‘Happy song No. 1’ (tracks 3-4), where the initial vocal sections use rhythmic mode 5a (fast even), whereas the later vocal sections begin with a suspended form of this pattern (rhythmic mode 5a (var)). In ‘Happy Song No. 2’ (track 5), the reverse applies, where the suspended form is used in the first vocal section, while the later ones use the normal form of beating (see further below).

Mixing of rhythmic modes within a vocal section

Mandji’s repertory has a number of instances of the use of different rhythmic modes within a vocal section.

As mentioned above, the three slow songs in Mandji’s repertory each use a combination of rhythmic modes 2 and 1 (slow even beating and without clapsticks respectively) for their vocal sections [93] (see table 6.2). In each case the vocal section is made up of one or more melodic sections that begin with slow even beating for the first text phrases and then change to unmeasured style for the final text phrases in the melodic section. In two cases the two rhythmic modes are used in an interesting relationship with the textual contrast between ghost language and human language. [94] In ‘Duwun Crab Song’ (track 7) and ‘Karra mele ngany-endheni-nö’ (track 8), rhythmic mode 2 (slow even) is used for the text in ghost language (vocables) while rhythmic mode 1 (without clapsticks) is used for text in human language (Emmi). [95]

Mandji also unusually suspends the fast even stickbeating (rhythmic mode 5a) in the ghost language text phrases (1-2) of non-initial vocal sections of ‘Happy Song No. 1’ (track 3), with the normal form employed for text phrase 3, which is in human language. The same effect is employed in ‘Happy Song No. 2’ (track 5), but here text phrase 3 instead of being in human language is also performed in ghost language, but with a very different vocal timbre and with different vocables from those used in text phrases 1-2. This seems to confirm that Mandji deliberately used variation in rhythmic mode to set off different ‘voices’ in his song texts.

Another possible instance of mixing rhythmic modes within a single vocal section occurs in Mandji’s performance of the first item of ‘Song from Anson Bay’ (chapter 6, track 9), where he begins singing wordless melody very quietly. As the volume increases through the first vocal section, the vocable text and the clapstick beating (in moderate uneven quadruple rhythmic mode 4b) gradually emerge. This is the only instance across the whole corpus of this use of crescendo in stickbeating accompaniment, though Jimmy Muluk’s ‘’ song contains numerous instances of suspended beating, sometimes with a crescendo in the course of a text phrase, in rhythmic mode 4a (var) (see for example chapter 5, track 12). Since this is a single instance that is not repeated in any other songs in Mandji’s recorded repertory, we are not certain whether this variant of rhythmic mode 4b was used systematically within the rhythmic modal system. On the other hand, it seems likely that recordings capture only a small part of Mandji’s whole repertory, so we have included this variant form as rhythmic mode 4b (var) in the table of rhythmic modes in chapter 2 (table 2.1).

Variation in rhythmic mode of instrumental sections across items

When Mandji performed ‘Duwun’ (track 1) in 1962, his dancers were from Delissaville (Belyuen) and for this reason he adopted for the instrumental section rhythmic mode 5c (fast uneven quadruple), which provides the best vehicle for the style of dancing favoured at Belyuen. When he performed the same song in 1988 at a burnim-rag ceremony at Batchelor, however, the dancers were from Wadeye and Peppimenarti. For this occasion Mandji performed the instrumental sections of ‘Duwun’ (track 2) in the form commonly used in the Walakandha wangga, that is, using rhythmic mode 5a (fast even) beating plus Walakandha wangga cueing patterns for the non-final instrumental sections, and rhythmic mode 5b (fast doubled) plus Walakandha wangga cueing pattern for the final instrumental section. The dancers were thus able to perform in the style most familiar to them, thus ensuring the success of the ceremonial dancing on this occasion.

Melodic mode overview

Turning now to the question of melody, the vast majority of Billy Mandji’s songs are, like those of Jimmy Muluk, sung in a major mode. It is difficult to interpret this as marking Mandji’s Marri Tjavin identity, however, since the majority of Walakandha wangga songs and Ma-yawa wangga songs are in the dorian mode, a mode that Mandji does not employ at all. True, both repertories do have a small number of songs in the major mode, for example Philip Mullumbuk’s Walakandha wangga songs, but they can hardly be regarded as representative It is more likely perhaps, given the closeness of the Emmi and Mendhe languages (see chapter 3), and Mandji’s use of Emmi for most text phrases in human language, that they reflect some sort of join Emmi-Mendhe identity: after all. Mandji both received songs from Emmi songmen and sang regularly with the Mendhe songman, Jimmy Muluk. The fact that the only song that is not in the major mode is ‘Robert Man.guna’s song’, however, presents some problems for this theory.

Further notes on selected tracks

Here we provide some additional analytical notes on musical features of seven songs (‘Duwun’, ‘Happy Song No. 1’, ‘Happy Song No. 3’, ‘Karra Mele Ngany-endheni-nö’, ‘Song for Anson Bay’, ‘Robert Man.guna’s Song’ and ‘Happy Song No. 4’).

‘Duwun’ (tracks 1-2)

In 1962 Mandji used rhythmic mode 5c (fast uneven quadruple) the most commonly danced of the Belyuen rhythmic modes, whereas in 1988 he adopted the standard Walakandha wangga form of beating that was most familiar to the Peppimenarti dancers (rhythmic modes 5a (fast even) for the internal instrumental section and 5b (fast doubled) to end, with Walakandha wangga cueing patterns). Mandji therefore tailored the form of stick beating to match the dancers, thus displaying his command of the wangga style as performed across the whole Daly region.

‘Happy song No. 1’ (track 3)

Somewhat unusually, in the later part of the item, Mandji sometimes suspends the beating during text phrases 1 (VS 3 and 4) or 1-2 (VS 5). This feature is also found in vocal section 1 of Happy Song No. 2 in track 5.

‘Happy Song No. 3’ (track 6)

Each vocal section consists of two melodic sections, separated by a breath. In vocal sections 1, 2, 4 and 6 the same vocable text phrase is repeated four times: twice over each melodic section (AA’AA). In vocal sections 3 and 7 the first two repetitions of the vocable text are replaced by wordless melisma over the melodic section 1 ([melisma]’AA).

It is clear that for this song, while varying the text and to some extent the melodic contour for melodic section 1, Mandji keeps the second melodic section relatively stable. This systematic variation in presentation of text over the same melody is reminiscent of Jimmy Muluk’s compositional procedures discussed in chapter 5.

‘Karra Mele Ngany-endheni-nö’ (track 8)

In his use of moderate even beating with Walakandha wangga beating patterns for instrumental section 1, Mandji appears to follow a pattern established by Jimmy Muluk whereby vocal sections in rhythmic modes 1 and 2 (both are used here) are followed by this pattern. The final pattern is unusual, however, in that it uses doubled beating in the moderate tempo band (rhythmic mode 4e).

‘Song from Anson Bay’ (track 9)

The use of rhythmic mode 4b (moderate uneven (quadruple)) is relatively unusual in the corpus. Of the singers included in this study, only Mandji and Lambudju use this mode: in Lambudju’s case for one song only (Marett, 2005, p. 196), while for Mandji there is a second example at track 12. This is the only instance of rhythmic mode 4b (var).

‘Robert Man.guna’s Song’ (track 11)

The use of rhythmic mode 5a (fast even), together with vocable text, suggests that this might be another ‘happy song.’ Somewhat unusually this is in a Lydian mode (C D E F# G A B). Bobby Lambudju Lane provides the only other example of this modal practice in the corpus (Marett, 2005, 194).

‘Happy song no. 4’ (track 12)

It begins in rhythmic mode 4b (moderate uneven (triple)) for the first vocal section, and almost moves in the second vocal section to rhythmic mode 4a (moderate even beating). Note that the ending is fairly messy, with relatively unsynchronised handclapping in the coda, perhaps because the audience members clapping along were unfamiliar with the song. Slower than most happy songs, but see the first two items of Muluk’s ‘Lerri’ song (chapter 5, track 19).

We don’t seem to have any photographs specific for Billy Mandji chapter. Perhaps something will be found in the Alice Moyle collection in AIATSIS.