Not many people know that it was originally a natural musical instrument, not built by man but dug by termites in nature. It originated in the territories of Northern Australia, a place rich in termite mounds and it is the sacred instrument of the Australian Aboriginal people. It is thought to be around 2,000 years old, as there are graffiti of this age depicting it, but it could also be older. Traditional didgeridoos are in eucalyptus decorated with Aboriginal totemic motifs, even if today we find tools of different materials, from teak to plastic and from metal to ceramic.
The name “didgeridoo: is an onomatopoeic interpretation given by the English colonizers who, landed on the new continent, heard the rhythmic sound coming from hollow eucalyptus branches played by the aborigines. The sound is produced by the vibrations of the player's lips which create a wide range of harmonics.
The real difficulty in playing this instrument is the circular breathing which allows to produce a continuous sound.
The size of the didgeridoo can vary: It can have a length ranging from less than one meter to 4 meters, and an internal diameter ranging from a minimum of three centimeters (at the mouth) up to 30 cm or more (in the final part).
While the timbre of the didgeridoo is influenced by the shape and proportions of the internal part of the instrument, this allows, unlike many other wind instruments, enormous timbral differences to be explored being free to take on almost every shape imaginable.
The type of material, thickness and curvatures generally have no influence whatsoever on the timbre of the instrument.
The circular breathing (or continuous breathing) technique is used to play the didgeridoo. This technique allows the player to take air from the nose while exhaling that contained in the mouth generating a continuous sound.
The imitation of the sound of animals that fascinates the West so much is instead relegated to a more playful and entertainment aspect that has little to do with traditional Aboriginal music. It is therefore less tied to the traditional context but to a more modern use due to the expansion of this tool throughout the Australian territory. The didgeridoo is used both in sacred rites and in everyday life. For populations where this instrument is traditional, women cannot play it in sacred rites, being used mainly in the male initiation rite. For some ethnic groups, the use of the didgeridoo by women is absolutely forbidden, but ironically, this occurs in the south of Australia where it is not a traditional tool.
It seems that the didgeridoo is also used for therapeutic-ritual purposes.
People get close to the didgeridoo for various reasons, but in my opinion the main ones are two: the first ones are certainly the particularity and uniqueness of the sound, combined with the charm of circular breathing and the cultural origins of this instrument. The second is the simplicity of the didgeridoo. It is considered among the oldest musical instruments that are known and is still played.
It is a solitary and introspective instrument that amplifies what is coming out of the mouth and therefore everyone plays it in its own way. It is like listening to your own voice and this is for me that “almost mystical something” that is so charming about this instrument.
In Sydney, a yearly festival is dedicated to the instrument and the program includes the participation of exceptional musicians, didgeridoo players from Australia and other parts of the world who perform on the festival stage. During the festival, they explore both traditional Aboriginal rhythms (played by exceptional Australian Aboriginal musicians) and that of the new western rhythms played by interpreters of this instrument from Australia and other parts of the world.