Last night, a hushed gathering of muso’s, industry executives and t5m were stunned by an intimate performance from Geoffrey ‘Gurrumul’ Yunupingu, an indigenous Australian musician, high in the lofty reaches of ‘Sound Advice’ HQ.
Gurrumul is undeniably an incredible musician; despite being born blind and having never been taught Braille. He is a refined guitarist, with a haunting voice made more atmospheric by his heartfelt lyrics in his native ‘Yolngu’ language. Having witnessed his performance last night, it is unsurprising that Gurrumul has transcended various physical and racial obstacles to go on and be nominated for four ARIAs in 2008 and to win three ‘Deadlys’ in the same year.
Signed to the independent Australian label, Skinny Fish, Gurrumul performed songs from his current eponymous album; tinged with raw emotion and accompanied by a double bass, violin and acoustic guitar, his lyrics told ancient stories of heritage and pride, including ‘Bapa’, about his collective paternal heritage and ‘Mawula’ written for his ’beautiful daughter’. The most memorable perhaps, was the English-language song ‘ Gurrumul’s History’ which opened with the refrain ‘I was born blind’ and explored the various aspects of Gurrumul’s identity.
Speaking before the performance, Robert Horsfall of Sound Advice told the crowd how he had once feared ‘the album was dead’ but that Gurrumul’s dignity, message and talent had ‘reinvigorated his enthusiasm and belief’. It became very clear that Skinny Fish and and Sound Advice are both profoundly in awe of Gurrumul’s remarkable talent, as well as working hard to preserve the unique nature of his sound and music.
We spoke to Michael Hohnen, Gurumuul’s producer and bass player about the album, and the importance of promoting indigenous music:
“Essentially. we wanted to make an album that was true to Gurrumul’s history. We didn’t want it to fit into that rift-heavy ‘world music’ style, we wanted to capture Gurrumul’s very own raw, stripped – down pop; I mean, this is a man who listens to Phil Collins and Dire Straits. That’s also why we are so excited to be in London – this is very much the centre of Gurrumul’s inspiration.
We aren’t motivated by money or awards, which is why we aren’t trying to make his music fit into anything commercial. It’s interesting, there is no ambition in that sense. Instead, we are trying to develop indigenous culture and promote positivity – be it in London, China or America’.
And it seems all this hard work has paid off, with world-music aficionado Charlie Gillett telling t5m, “that was absolutely captivating, what can you say? It is going to work, you can’t argue with it. It was incredibly moving and brilliant – I have no doubt there will be a great reaction”.
High praise indeed, and not a word of hyperbole. Inspirational, captivating and unique – Gurrumul is an example of the beauty and emotion of indigenous music.
Gurrumul has also recently won Breakthrough Songwriter of the Year at the Australasian Performing Rights Association awards.
Gurrumul Tour Dates:
13th May: Union Chapel, Islington
14th May: Unitarian Church, Great Escape Festival, Brighton
15th May: St. Georges Church, Great Escape Festival, Brighton
Gurrumul will also return to London in July for more dates.
To find out more check out www.gurrumul.com