Indigenous music has had a profound influence on the modern culture of celebration. Since the days of our ancestors we have been fashioning instruments, making sounds and coming together to enjoy the infectious beats and melodies of even the simplest of songs.
It’s almost as if music is part of the human soul. All over the globe our forefathers found their individual rhythms and songs and created musical traditions that are still with us to this very day.
If you want to learn more about the musical roots of our earth and the indigenous tribes that planted the seeds for all we listen to today, these five fantastic documentaries will give you an insight into the rhythms, rhymes and cultural life of our early ancestors.
1) In Between Songs
In Between Songs follows an Australian Aboriginal family’s struggle to survive. Djalu Gurruwiwi, Yolngu elder, and his sister, Dhanggal, strive to restore eroding tradition. While shepherding their Galpu clan through economic, environmental, and social pressures, they search desperately for new custodians to safeguard their priceless musical legacy. Emmy award winner and Oscar nominated actor/activist James Cromwell narrates this stirring feature documentary. Check out Didge Project’s exclusive feature on Djalu Gurruwiwi, written by In Between Songs writer/director Joshua Bell.
2) Sufi Soul: The Mystic Music of Islam
This film looks at one of the Islam’s oldest sects, the Sufi Tradition, and how its love of peace, music and poetry may even hold an antidote for the extremism that we are seeing around the world today. Sufism preaches tolerance and pluralism. It puts a massive focus on dance, celebration, life and laughter.
In this incredible documentary we are shown a valuable insight into an Islamic world which most people weren’t even aware of. It looks at how Sufis hold the belief that music and sound is a key factor in perfecting the mind-body unity that is so important to complete devotional practice. It has lead narrator William Dalrymple traveling to some of the most prolific countries in the Arab world to find examples of this wonderful, spiritual song.
US residents will be pleased to know that this amazing documentary is currently available on Netflix, however users from overseas may have to install the appropriate software to gain access to the full American library in order to view it.
3) Pepper’s Pow Wow
The Native Americans are another fantastic example of an Indigenous people with a vibrant and diverse musical culture. This enchanting combination of old and new is evident that in the work of Jim Pepper and his band The Free Spirits.
Raised with great influence from his heritage, Pepper spent his childhood learning Peyote chants on the knee of his grandfather. Versed in the traditional music of his people, he grew and began to combine these sounds with the contemporary jazz and rock songs of the then-modern era. His 1974 hit “Witchi Tai To” brought the music of his people to the world stage and made him a pivotal player in Native American representation.
The whole documentary is dedicated to this incredible man and his life. It is an essential watch for anyone interested in the indigenous music of the USA. It’s easily accessible and can be found on YouTube for free:
4) Murundak: Songs of Freedom
It’s heartbreaking to consider, but the bleak truth is that indigenous cultures all over the world are being stamped out, with no real consideration to the great social and cultural losses that this is causing. It goes without saying that there is no real political voice standing up for the Aboriginal people and the terrible injustices they have faced (and are still facing). However, in lieu of an authority figure to lead their way, the amazing singers and songwriters of this culture are using the sounds of their ancestors to make their protest heard.
The Black Armband is a group of singers and artists that have toured their country in order to share their struggles for resistance and freedom with their songs. This music gives the modern Aborigines a voice and platform to discuss the problems they have been plagued with since they were stripped of their freedom and unity.
The see this incredible and impacting piece of cinema for yourself, you can purchase the DVD directly from the distributor’s website.
5) Dancing with The Incas
Just like the rest of the world, South America has many indigenous cultures and their own unique set of musical rituals for celebration, cultural relevance and spirituality. This particular film covers the ancient Inca tradition of Huayno music. Following the history of the tradition from its early beginnings in ancient Peru to the influence it’s had on the contemporary sounds of South America, this documentary looks at every aspect of Huayno life.
In addition to an auditory panorama of the Huayno tradition, the film explores the different types of instruments, the politically reverent lyrics and the carnival culture that was inspired by the ancient Inca people. Alongside this, it looks at the oppression indigenous cultures have to face and how Huayno music has had to change under constant pressure from the West.
This documentary is available to stream in many places online, or you can opt to buy the official DVD by contacting the producers.
***The following 3 films were added by Didge Project’s blog editor AJ Block
6) Throw Down Your Heart
Virtuoso banjo player Bela Fleck decided to go to Africa and seek out the roots of his instrument: the banjo. In this award winning film, Fleck links up with traditional musicians across Africa to create unique collaborative field recordings that are produced at a very high level. The album’s soundtrack stands on its own as a fantastic world music album.
7) Ghengis Blues
Paul Pena, a blind San Francisco blues musician, heard a fantastically strange sound on the radio one day and started to try to recreate it with his voice. After investigating further, he found out that this music comes from Tuva, a small country on the Mongolian border. This film shows Pena traveling to to Tuva to learn from the masters and (eventually) help to bring tuvan throat Singing to the west.
8) Latcho Drom
Filmmaker Tony Gatlif decided to document the vast Romani musical tradition with both staged and spontaneous performances across Eurasia. Commonly referred to as gypsies, the Romani people are attributed large influence in the development of flamenco, gypsy jazz, North Indian, Greek, Turkish, Slavic, Persian, Arabic and Jewish musical forms. This film is a stunning insight into ethnic music. Watch in full here:
What indigenous music documentaries do you recommend?
These are just eight of the best documentaries about indigenous music, but there are more great options out there. If you have seen a particularly great film that you feel deserves to be on this list, then be sure to tell us the name of the film (and a link to trailer or official website) in the comments section below. We’d love to hear your ideas!
About the Author:
Isa is an entertainment blogger for Culture Coverage and a lifelong music lover. She thinks music is one of the most important elements of life on this earth. She loves scouring the internet to find new and exciting genres, then investigating the history behind them!