Nyilipidgi lies north-east of Ngukurr, in Australia’s Arnhem Land. At the heart of the ancient culture of the Wagilak people, who continue to care for these ancestral homelands, is the tradition of manikay: shared songs which bind the community together, both reflecting on and creating a sense of identity, place and unity.
In 2004, jazz pianist and composer Paul Grabowsky began working with the ceremonial musicians of the Wagilak clan, drawn – in his own words – by ‘a long-held desire to engage with this old, old music, this living, breathing time tunnel, the heritage and testimony of the world’s oldest living culture’.
This album is the result of that decade-long collaboration, and itself an expression of the manikay tradition through which people come together in song. Music becomes a space where stories are shared, and where boundaries between traditions are dissolved. Rather than becoming two musical forms layered onto one another, Nyilipidgi presents an almost transcendental integration of the two: jazz and Wagilak manikay have a shared foundation in the musical and aesthetic principles of freedom and expression; the rhythmic groove of their respective instrumentations further add a sense of shared time.
Nyilipidgi brings together David Yipininy Wilfred, the traditional djunggayi (manager) of the manikay of the country of Nyilipidgi, and his brother Daniel Ngukurr Boy Wilfred, with the Monash Art Ensemble and Paul Grabowsky, one of Australia’s most respected musical figures a multi ARIA-Award-winning jazz composer and performer. The project was first performed at the 2015 Melbourne International Jazz Festival.
Reflecting on the project, Daniel Wilfred comments ‘This song [manikay] never stops; it’s still there, it never changes – my song! Sometimes we do new songs, but it still comes up with our language. New songs, it never stops. Sometimes I mix it up: yidaki [didjeridu] with bilma [clapsticks] with jazz, guitar and drums. Mix it up with the white-fella music. And I keep teaching the Balanda mob [non-Aboriginal people]. Teach them my language too – always teaching them!’