«Hand to Earth» is a call to open ears: eluding genre, traversing continents and fusing ancient and contemporary. It features the more than 40,000-year-old song-cycles from South East Arnhem Land in northern Australia, the Yolgnu manikay. These song cycles exist to cross time and space, to continuously make the continuous, and are known as raki, the spirit that pulls all together, performers and listeners.
There are no compositions on this album and nothing is written. Just the voices are of Korean vocalist Sunny Kim, Ritharru-man David Wilfred, and the 3 voices of Daniel Wilfred, the ceremonial leader and keeper of Yolgnu manikay, who sings in Wägilak language, in his ‘own’, the old people’s and his son’s voices, as the carrier of knowledge. Two members of the Australian Art Orchestra’s (AAO) – reeds player Aviva Endean and the musical director of AAO, trumpeter-electronics player Peter Knight embraced the voices with nuanced and subtle layers of electronic atmospheres and field recordings from David and Daniel’s country.
The six songs and one instrumental piece invite the listener to dive into timeless, enigmatic rituals and territories, or as Daniel Wilfred writes in the liner notes: «The songline and the raki, they pull. Two things. They pull you, or they can touch you. You’re not singing from your head, you’re singing from your heart… Traveling around the country, the didgeridoo, clapping sticks, the voices that you’re singing. Changing the life you knew. What do you do, the next step? What you can share? That’s what the manikay is». And scholar Samuel Curkpatrick expands on this sacred tradition that resonates the minds of the old: «It is identity, creativity and life. Singing begins with humming which resonates through the skull. These vibrations are given a voice, carried on the air, crackling with emotion and life. Outside of the body, the songs of one group combined with the songs of another. Relationships formed in a song are life-giving. A singer learns manikay by sitting beside an elder, imitating their voice and its grainy texture. Many years later, that voice returns to them».
Kim, a frequent collaborator of AAO, has developed an immediate rapport with David Wilfred and Daniel Wilfred. Endean and Knight intensify the elemental evocation, the resonance and the breath of the ancient wooden instruments – Daniel Wilfred’s bilma – clapping sticks, and David Wilfred’s yidaki – didgeridoo, with their minimalist atmospheric sounds. These songs demonstrate beautifully this kind of sensual, healing communal magic, just like Curkpatrick tells it: the past wells inside the performer – or the listener, gaining to voice and leading the body; others feel the song, tasting the vowels and the air dances as phonics collide; a rough stream cracking with life; birds come and sit by the stream, they sing and soar.
Open your ears and mind and soar with these songs.
Daniel Wilfred (v, bilma), David Wilfred (yidaki, v), Sunny Kim (v, elec, perc), Peter Knight (tp, elec, perc), Aviva Endean (cl, fl, objects, perc)