A Beautiful Voice: Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu
Gurrumul Yunupingu is a man of few words, at least publically. Notorious for avoiding interviews or indeed, any sort of self-promotion, he appears to have not much interest in fame and is concerned with making money from his music only in so far as it can offer security and help his family.
Thus far in his career he has won an Aria, made it to Number One on the iTunes Australia roots music chart, performed with Elton John, Sting and had the critics and public alike raving about his 'angelic' voice and musical talent.
Most of the talking in interviews is done by his friend and producer Michael Hohnen, whom he calls a 'brother'. As Hohnen tells it, they had to pull out of a planned US tour because on the day of departure Gurrumul simply wouldn't get on the plane. He didn't wish to go. According to Hohnen, there's a frailty about the reticent star that he wouldn't elaborate on.
Indigenous Australians belong to what is probably the oldest surviving culture in the world, yet, statistically, they are also the most vulnerable group in our Nation. The brute facts are that 45% of Aboriginal men and 34% of women die before the age of 45. 71% die before they reach the age of 65. At 40,the singer is now nearing the danger age for developing health problems. Certainly to this listener at least, there is a sweet, deep melancholy in Gurrumul's voice that suggests an understanding of suffering and loss
Gurrumul sings in Yolngu language, but this scarcely matters as the emotional expression is universal. For a restful experience, take a few moments out...turn up the volume, shut your eyes, hit the play button, sit back and let your mind take you where you where it wants to go. I hope you enjoy the song as much as I did.
“All instruments – whether it is piano, guitar, bass, yidaki, drums – all of them I like playing. I just love music.”
Born on Elcho island, Arnhem land, in Australia's Top End, Gurrumul has been blind since birth. However, he was not sheltered as a child but rather surrounded by a very supportive family and community who encouraged what was an early interest in music.
When as an infant his mother bought him a toy keyboard, he took to it immediately and taught himself to play. Left-handed, he was later given a guitar at age six and learnt to play with the strings upside down. By the time he was a teenager he could play a variety of instruments and word was spreading about his musical abilities beyond the immediate community.
In need of a drummer, acclaimed indigenous band Yothu Yindi had heard about the wiz kid from Elcho Island and Gurrumul was asked to join the band on an International tour. The venture was successful for both parties, however one day Gurrumul just announced he was resigning from the band because he wanted to play guitar and keyboard instead of drums.
Returning to Elcho Island, Gurrumul met Micheal Hohnen, former member of Melbourne band, The Killjoys, who had escaped to the Northern Terrority to expand his horizons. Working with local musicians running workshops, Hohnen teamed up with an Employment Project Manager, Mark Grose and seeing how important music was to the local youth, together they developed the idea of setting up a record label.
Hohnen was deeply impressed by Gurrumul and suggested he do some work on his own, independent of the band he was currently with. After some very successful live solo performances, a recording was made and Gurrumul's career was off and running.
Gurrumul's home at Galinwinku on Elcho Island, is a remote community isolated from most of Australia, however, it is the largest Aboriginal community in northeast Arnhem Land and culturally rich in indigenous arts. As far as Gurrumul is concerned, the music of his Island home was, and continues to be, a signifcant influence in his life.
These are songs that I sing for all my families, and Yolngu. When I sing it is like I am singing for my fathers and mothers and aunties and my clan. It makes me feel strong and happy, like I am giving people a message and a good feeling.
Deadly Vibe website
Australian Story, ABC