Iwaidja Jurtbirrk songs: bringing language and music together

12 April 2015

Song brings language and music together. Great singers are at once musi- cians and wordsmiths, who toss rhythm, melody and word against one another in complex cross-play. In this paper we outline some initial findings that are emerg- ing from our interdisciplinary study of the musical traditions of the Cobourg region of western Arnhem Land, a coastal area situated in the far north of the Australian continent 350 kilometres northeast of Darwin. We focus on a set of songs called Jurtbirrk, sung in Iwaidja, a highly endangered language, whose core speaker base is now located in the community of Minjilang on Croker Island. We bring to bear analytical methodologies from both musicology and linguistics to illuminate this hitherto undocumented genre of love songs.