Words are my tools of trade – and I like to think I have the words to do justice to any subject. But I confess I struggle to find the words that convey the magic of Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu and the music he makes. Five or so years ago he came to Cairns and performed live on my radio show. I sat there transfixed as he sang and played guitar, seemingly without effort, and created a sound that goes beyond music. I still struggle to describe what I felt in that tiny studio that day – but I am certain I witnessed a rare and unique talent exercising his musical gift in a way that seemed to transcend the human condition but was brimming with humanity.
His story is now well known. He was born blind, grew up in the Gumatj clan on Elcho Island, off the Arnhem land coast. His breath-taking high tenor voice conjures the stories of his life, his country, his people, and the ancestor beings to whom he’s connected. His success on the world stage came despite the fact that he rarely sings in English – and the vast majority of listeners don’t know what he’s singing about, but they all feel it.
Gurrumul has performed for the Queen of England, US President Barack Obama, Crown Prince Frederik and Princess Mary of Denmark, and was one of only two Australian performers at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace.
This Sunday, Gurrumul sings for the good folk of far north Queensland at the Botanic Gardens in Cairns. The gig has been sold out for some time, but you can sample his music on this week’s Tony Hillier’s World of Music. LISTEN here
Gopuru, originally recorded on Gurrumul’s second album, Rrakala in 2012 remixed here for the CD accompanying Robert Hillman‘s coffee table book Gurrumul: His Life and Music
Djiawurr from the Saltwater Band 2010 album Malk
Gurrumul History originally recorded on Gurrumul’s self-named 2008 debut solo album, and here remixed for the CD accompanying the book Gurrumul: His Life and Music
Tony Hillier is one of Australia’s leading music journalists and a musician of long standing here in far north Queensland. His informed and insightful coverage of music features in The Weekend Australian and Rhythms magazine http://rhythms.com.au/
Tony Hillier’s World of Music is also available as a podcast. Search for Tony Hillier on your podcast app or in the iTunes store. And you can stay in touch with the FNQ music scene with Tony at http://www.entertainmentcairns.com/hilliers-hotline-archive.php
You can hear Tony on ABC Far North each Friday at 445pm.