Musical and linguistic perspectives on Aboriginal song

12 April 2015

This article serves as an introduction to the special issue 'Studies in Aboriginal Song' edited by Marett and Barwick. Since 1984, numerous collections of essays dedicated entirely or partly to Aboriginal song and dance appeared. Each of these represented a response to particular stimuli. Much of the work presented in the present volume, Studies in Aboriginal Song: A Special Issue of Australian Aboriginal Studies, resulted from research projects that focus on endangered language and music and involved either collaborative work between linguists and musicologist, or work by scholars with training in both disciplines. Faced as we are with the ongoing and escalating loss of so many of Australia’s Indigenous languages and performance traditions, there is some evidence that studies of Aboriginal song are increasing. And yet too little is being done too late by too few. In musicology in particular, the discipline has failed adequately to respond to the cultural tragedy that is unfolding before our eyes as manifold traditions of Australia’s Indigenous heritage are lost to future generations of Aboriginal peoples and to the national heritage. Major initiatives, such as the various endangered language programs mentioned in our essay, and the National Recording Project for Indigenous Performance in Australia, are attempting to find solutions that will empower Indigenous peoples in their struggle to maintain their threatened languages and traditions in the face of the enormous forces arrayed against them. But so much remains to be done, not least in training young persons, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, with the disciplinary and practical skills to meet this challenge.