For the sake of a song

Walakandha No. 7

TRACK 5 (Mar99-04-s18) Song v: Walakandha No. 7 [109]

Sung text   Free Translation  
yene yene yene yene yene yene yenekarra walakandhakarra  Yene, yene, yene, yene, yene, yene, yeneKarra walakandhaKarra 

This song by Stan Mullumbuk was sung to Marett by Ambrose Piarlum in 1999, explicitly as a historical curiosity rather than an item in the current repertory. In a subsequent rendition (not included here), a number of singers added text to the second text phrase, but in a rather chaotic and unsatisfactory manner. One of the versions of text phrase 2 is karra walakandha kiminy-ga kavulh, which means ‘Walakandha always sing like this.’ Frank Dumoo suggested that this is the correct form of the text, and that the form given here is an abbreviation.

Song structure summary


Melodic section 1

Text phrase 1

Rhythmic mode 5c (fast uneven quadruple)

yene  yene  yene  yene  yene  yene  yene 

Yene, yene, yene, yene, yene, yene, yene

Text phrase 2

Rhythmic mode 5c (fast uneven quadruple)

karra  walakandha 
SW  walakandha 


Melodic section 2

Text phrase 3

Rhythmic mode 5c (fast uneven quadruple)




Rhythmic mode 5c (fast uneven quadruple)

B: The transition from the early period to the golden age (tracks 10-11)

In 1998, Gemma Ngunbe, the daughter of John Dumoo, gave Allan Marett a cassette tape that she had found in a storeroom at the Wadeye school. Marett (2007, pp 67, 73 (footnote 15)) has concluded that it probably belongs to a collection of recordings recorded by Bill Hoddinott in 1982. [110] The singer is Thomas Kungiung. Several of the songs (tracks 6-9) are early period compositions by Stan Mullumbuk, and others (tracks 10 and 11) are early compositions by Thomas Kungiung himself. The recording appears to document the transition from the early period, in which Mullumbuk was the dominant songman, to the golden age, when Kungiung emerged as the pre-eminent songman. In this recording Thomas Kungiung contrasts two approaches to rhythmic mode, the first typical of Stan Mullumbuk’s practice, the second of his own. Juxtaposing consecutive song items with minimal variation is a strategy deployed by singers in many different Australian song traditions to draw attention to particular facets of song meaning and structure. Barwick has suggested that this approach to structuring a song performance fosters the development of inductive modes of musical learning (Barwick, 2005, 2006).

Kungiung begins by presenting Mullumbuk’s practice of singing a song in a number of different rhythmic modes, which may have been a feature borrowed by Mullumbuk from the Belyuen singer Jimmy Muluk (see chapter 5). Kungiung first sings two versions of Mullumbuk’s ‘Walakandha No. 8’ (see also track 1) in two different rhythmic modes. [111] He then sings two versions of another Mullumbuk song ‘Walakandha No. 9’, again contrasting rhythmic modal treatment, [112] and also introducing a contrast in melody between the two versions. Kungiung’s presentation of two different Mullumbuk songs given contrasting musical treatments draws attention firmly to that aspect of their musical structure.

Kungiung then presents two of his own compositions, ‘Yendili No. 6’ and ‘Yenmilhi No. 2’ (tracks 10 and 11), consistently singing each vocal section in one, and only one, rhythmic mode. It seems that the practice of always singing songs in a single rhythmic mode was an important innovation introduced when Kungiung took over from Mullumbuk as the main Walakandha songman. Marett has concluded that Kungiung deliberately simplified rhythmic modal practice in this way in order to facilitate the participation of a greater number of dancers from a wider range of language groups (Marett, 2007).

Neither of these Kungiung compositions (‘Yendili No. 6’ and ‘Yenmilhi No. 2’) survived into the golden age (1986-1996). We may assume therefore that these are early compositions, and the closeness of their structure to those of the Mullumbuk songs confirms this (see further discussion on this point below). One feature of these songs not found in the later Kungiung repertory is a small degree of text instability. Perhaps this is because the songs had not yet been subjected to the rigours of ceremonial performance, which usually requires the texts of songs to become fixed.