Swiss Didgeridoo History

as cronicled by Willy Grimm

June 1971, the author of this Swiss didgeridoo history, Willy Grimm, returned from Australia to Berne, however my enthusiasm to spread the word about the didgeridoo fell largely on deaf ears for the first few years.

By 1981, new musical paths had been forged by names like La Monte Young, Terry Riley, John Cage und Philip Glass. And suddenly, there was space for a didjeridu (or perhaps Didgeridoo, Didjeridoo, Didgeridu, Dijjuriduu, Dijdscheridu? The ancient Australian inhabitants also have a large range of names for the instrument, e.g. Yidaki, Yiraki, Malik, Nagu, Eruga, Ilpirra, Aràwi und Bambu). The books „Durch Musik zum Selbst" ("Finding yourself through music" by Peter Michael Hamel, 1980),  Joachim Ernst Berendt’s „Nada Brahma – Die Welt ist Klang“("Nadabrahma – the world is sound", 1983) und John Diamond’s „Life Energy in Music“(1984), helped me get a new perspective on such music as is played traditionally by the Aborigines.

I began I began to hear of proud new didjeridu owners, some of them showed up, and proved, they even knew how to play. I then experienced the following, in chronological order:
1982 Stephen McDonnell played on the cassette "Didjeridu for the Shamanic Journey"

1983 Charlie McMahon formed the Gondwanaland Project and released the cassette "Terra Incognita".

1984 Following his book, John Diamond put therapy with the didgeridoo into practice, with the release on cassette of the result of a spoken dialogue with the American musician Stuart Dempster, supplemented with a long didj solo.

1985 Two foreign musicians who also used the didjeridu appeared in Switzerland: the Finn Lauri Nykopp on the 30th of June at the Gurten Festival, and on the 5th of November, the Italian Roberto Lanieri in Basel. From then on, I could add new names to my list every year.

1986 I heard of Ron Nagorcka, from Tasmania, who mixed didjeridu with sounds from nature, and marketed his own cassettes. Also Jim Wafer, a sound therapist in New Zealand, hailing from Gambia/Great Britain, and half of the duo "Electric Dreamtime" with Alain Eskinasi. It was also in this year that I met Gérard Widmer, with whom I was three years later to form the NATURTON duo – but more on this in one of the next issues of Didgeridoo & Co. Magazine.

1987 Peter Kaye from Cairns in Queensland, Australia brought out a tutorial cassette with a booklet, entitled "Play & Enjoy the Didjeridu of the Australian Aboriginal"

1988 brought "Lights In A Fat City" from Stephen Kent – a quantum jump in European didge music! I got into contact with all these musicians: we had at least one thing in common – the didjeridu. With so much new energy and growing interest, also at closer quarters, I organised the first Swiss didgeridoo gathering in Berne, attended by 30 participants: about a third of them had a didgeridoo and played. By chance a cassette of the Swiss musician Carl Hänggi came into my hands, upon which I heard a very special didjeridu. When I contacted him, I found out that he had mixed it in from a sound sampler, without actually knowing what instrument it was!

1989 In the course of the growing Ethno and World Music scene, Rüdiger Oppermann organised the third Klangwelten (Worlds of Sound) Festival in Freiburg, where probably the first Aboriginal didjeridu player to perform in Europe appeared. Trevor Parfitt of the Middar Aboriginal Theatre was meant to play, but was replaced by Shane Abdullah Scrubb. The German Klaus Burger performed, and the young Aborigine Richard Walley played with the East Berlin Philharmonic.

1990 the Australian David Hudson performed in Berne with his Tjapukai Dance Theatre, and I met Kutira Decosterd from Hawaii, born Swiss, the first female didjeridu player I had ever encountered. The "Settimana Australia in Italia" (Australian Week in Italy) took place in Vicenza, graced by the Bwunggul dancers from Arnhem Land. I also played at this festival with our NATURTON duo. I must admit, I had more stage-fright than usual, and I couldn't resist asking Bwunngul's didj player, William(!), how he felt about me playing his instrument as a white man. However, he didn't have any problems with that, and even asked if he could try my "stick", and when he had done so, commented "Not a bad pull, mate." At a concert in Berne I met David Hopkins from Ireland, a fascinating wind-instrument and bodhrán player, with a collection of over 200 different flutes, horns and bamboo instruments. The first didjeridu CDs appeared, like "Initiation" from Phil Thornton (with Steven Cragg on Didj), "Baka" from and with Graham Wiggins (Outback), and "Birds In A Jungle" from Big Tribal Heart.

1992 Yothu Yindi came to the Gurten Festival in Berne, and I meet the German Kailash, who had been playing ten years. Frank Köstler also from Germany, Jem Friar the busker from Great Britain, and Gary Thomas, billed as "The Australian Didgeman", gave his first concerts and workshops in Switzerland and Germany

1993 saw a milestone in the history of the didjeridu – Dirk Schellberg's book "Didgeridoo Ritual Origins and Playing Techniques". As I was playing with the idea of writing something similar, but never actually did, I thought it was great to find it available in bookshops. As I congratulated Dirk on the book, and we exchanged personal notes and saw that we had similar experiences, the idea of a new edition to incorporate my knowledge and experience was born immediately.

1994, and the Uhuru Festival was a confirmation of the booming popularity of the didgeridoo in Switzerland which continues today.

1995 The summer brought the "Australian Summer Night Experience – the fascinating music of the Aborigines" to the Casino in Zug, featuring the artists Joe Gaia, Kev Carmody, George Djilaynga and Bruce Laylay of the Warumpi Band. The second German-language book was published: "Yedaki- faszinierendes Instrument aus der Traumzeit" (Yedaki – fascinating instrument from the Dreamtime). My friendship with the author Henning Gerlt is still alive today.

1996 could be considered a key year for the didj scene. In January and February, the "Spirit of Australia" Dreamtime Show toured Switzerland with 14 appearances. The live act was Marshall Whyler, who had played didj for 20 years, and formed the group Indiginy. Yothu Yindi returned for a concert in Berne. At the Karlstor railway station in Heidelberg was the "Australian Culture Festival" – amongst the musicians were Mark Atkins & Janawirri Yiparrka, Gary Thomas, Phillip Cunningham, NATURTON und Stephen Kent. Kailash organised the 1st international didjeridu gathering in Switzerland, the heart of Europe, for the last week of August. Although not all the promised Aboriginal artists appeared, the programme was full and impressive: Mark Atkins & Janawirri Yiparrka, Shah Shahidi, Gary Thomas, Phillip Cunningham, Jon Fonmosa,  Alastair Black, Stephen Kent, NATURTON, Phil Perris, Rob Mantz, Ron Sperber, Cy Rung. Just released in time for this week was the CD "Didjeridu, Alphorn & Co.", produced by myself and Max Regli, which includes a track each from 13 Swiss didge players. Peter Kaupp founded the "Outdoor Didgeridoo Club Basel" in the same year.

Year by year there are more Didjeridu/Australia festivals on offer throughout Europe, and the same applies to recordings. A few years ago, it was possible for me to buy every available didj production, but nowadays there are too many, and the content (quality) too meagre. It was also the year that I got myself a computer. With Internet access, all sorts of new possibilities appeared. The networking grew. At the Didjeridu Dreamtime W3 Server  for example, homepage of the American didjeridu community.

So, that's it… but now you readers are also a part of the didjeridu story. We are happy to get any feedback or additional input. It would also be great if a similar chronology could be created for other countries – any offers?
If you have any interesting story to share or know of any event anywhere in the world which should be included in a world history of the didgeridoo, please email us (please start the email with: "Didgeridoo History" and the country).
We'd also love to receive photos which illustrate historic didgeridoo events, so please let us know if you have any which we could share with the world didgeridoo community.

Thank you

You might also want to read Willy Grimm's personal story of didgeridoo discovery in the sixties.