Songman? Considering virtuosity and Noongar song revitalisation

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapterpeer-review


This chapter will focus on virtuosity in the Aboriginal traditions of Noongar song from the southwest of Western Australia. Despite frequently holistic conceptualisations of Aboriginal song as part of a package including dance, music, storytelling, and visual design, particular singers are nevertheless held in high regard. Early ethnographers referred to Noongar performances featuring a ‘chief singer’ or ‘song maker’, and the terms ‘songman’ and ‘songwoman’ have since been popularised to describe virtuosic Aboriginal singers more generally. A singer may accrue this distinction via their ability to perform well-known songs and to create new ones. They may also lead performances and facilitate the sharing of songs. Virtuosity is also linked to vocal timbre, with singers often learning to imitate their teacher’s voice as part of the intergenerational aim to sing as the ancestors did. Considering the endangerment of Noongar song traditions, research to determine what makes a ‘good song’ and a ‘good singer’ has been fundamental to the development of new Noongar performances in the southwest of Western Australia. This chapter examines the understandings of the ‘songman’ in the context of musical virtuosity and song revitalisation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationContemporary Musical Virtuosities
EditorsLouise Devenish, Cat Hope
Place of PublicationUnited States of America
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781000951912
ISBN (Print)9781032310855
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2023


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