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The Didjeridoo Man

The one man orchestra from Australia

Neha Sharma Jun 10, 2008
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Hashim Badani

“I am not a DJ,” clarifies Dave Johnston aka Dave J (whose initials could also be misleading.) While in some mentions of his performances in print, the man had been given the wrong appellation of a DJ, his music is better defined as ‘Tribal Techno,’ ‘Electro Acoustic’ and ‘Didjeridoo Disco.’ In a black gunjee, tonsured head, sporting a tattoo on the left arm (a feline symbol – reminder of his stay in the UK), Johnston’s marble-like eyes rest on the huge cup of tea that sits on the table before him. “I love masala chai; it’s the one thing I cherish in India.” Johnston confides his only hook today would be the herb tea but also lets us know in all frankness that India isn’t exactly his cup of tea. “I always warn my friends if they are visiting India.” He recalls his previous trip to India in 2005 (on honeymoon with his wife of Indian-Malay origin) not very fondly except for a favourable mention of Goa and the Kerala backwaters. This time it was Gold Coast Tourism (Australia) that brought him down to play at Mumbai.

As we struggle with the pronunciation, Johnston pitches in and enlightens us on the workings of the innovative instrument which backbones his sound – the Didjeribone. This instrument has evolved from one of the oldest wind instruments in the world – the Aboriginal didjeridoo. The Didjeribone, now a trademarked brand, is a cross between the didjeridoo and the trombone, with an outer tube that slides over the inner one. The musician blows into the conical mouth piece and slides the upper tube bringing about variations in the scales (ranging from B flat to G) which are marked out in undecipherable symbols. Though it is not as simple as he makes it seem, as we notice his breathing technique has a larger role to play. He theorises his breathing: “I use a circular breathing technique which tempers the sound.” Johnston’s bloated-up mouth smoothly manoeuvres the air within to create a sound which reminds one of Buddhist chants.

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Johnston’s association with music goes back to high school, dabbling in all standard instruments (drums, guitars, keys). Over the years Johnston became well-versed with percussions – drums, bongo and gong. Though it’s only recently that Johnston defined his music in the Didjeribone, with his debut EP Organic Electro coming out last year.

The solo artist works the sound of other instruments (percussions, keys, bass, guitars) and his vocals around the Didjeribone. Real-time sampling and looping allow Johnston to create rich multi-layered soundscapes live.

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