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Gurrumul Yunupingu, Geoffrey

Category: Musician or composer

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu (22 January 1971 – 25 July 2017), was an Indigenous Australian musician.  He was born blind, never learned Braille and did not have a guide dog or use a white cane.  He was described as acutely shy.   

When he was four years old, he learned how to play a toy piano and an accordion by teaching himself. A year later he began to play a guitar; despite being a left-hander, he played a right-handed guitar, holding it upside down, which he would continue to do throughout his career.  He also played drums, keyboards, and didgeridoo. 

The clarity of his singing voice attracted praise and admiration, many have heaped praise on the singer, describing his voice as having "transcendental beauty".     [Portrait by Guy Maestri]

The ARIA [Australian Record Industry] Music Awards is an annual awards ceremony that recognises excellence, innovation, and achievement across all genres of Australian music.  Gurrumul won 7 awards from 19 nominations.  In 2008 alone, Yunupingu was nominated for four ARIA Awards, winning the awards for Best World Music Album and Best Independent Release.

He also won three ‘Deadlys’, winning for Artist of the Year, Album of the Year for Gurrumul and Single of the Year for "Gurrumul History (I Was Born Blind)".  The Deadly Awards, are an annual celebration of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander achievement in music, sport, entertainment and community.  And in 2016, Gurrumul was named NAIDOC Award – Artist of the Year.

In 2012 Gurrumul had conferred upon him an Honorary Doctorate of Music by the University of Sydney.

Life and career

The first of four sons born to Ganyinurra (Daisy), of the Gumal clan, and Nyambi (Terry) Yunupingu, a Gumatj clansman, he was born in Galiwin'ku, Elcho Island in 1971, situated off the coast of Arhem Land in northern Australia, about 530 kilometres east of Darwin.  When asked what he would do with any money he made, he suggested it would go to his mother and aunts, following the Aboriginal tradition of sharing wealth.

Gurrumul sang stories of his land both in Yolŋu languages such as Gaalpu, Gumatj or Djambarrpuynu, a dialect related to Gumatj, and in English.

He produced just four studio albums and two live albums

Gurrumul

His first solo album, Gurrumul, was released in 2008, debuting at No. 69 on the ARIA Charts and No. 1 on the independent chart. Gurrumul peaked at No. 3 on the ARIA Charts. The album was certified triple platinum. Yunupingu's friend Michael Hohnen produced the album and was his translator.
In November 2009, he was named Best New Independent Artist, and this album, Gurrumul, Best Independent Release and Best Independent Blues/Roots Release at the Jägermeister Australian Independent Record (AIR) Awards.

Live in Darwin, Australia

Released: 16 July 2010

Rrakala

Gurrumul was awarded the Australian Independent Record (AIR) Award for Best Independent Blues and Roots Album in 2011 for his album Rrakala.

His Life and Music

In December 2013, Gurrumul released a live album, titled His Life and Music which was recorded in the Sydney Opera House and released through ABC Music. It was nominated for Australian Independent Record Labels Association and ARIA awards.

The Gospel Album

In 2015, Gurrumul toured the US. He released his third studio album, The Gospel Album on 31 July 2015. It debuted at number 3 on the ARIA Charts. In October 2015, the album won Gurrumul's third ARIA Award for Best World Music Album

Djarimirri (Child of the Rainbow)

In April 2018, Yunupingu's fourth studio album Djarimirri (Child of the Rainbow) was released. It is an album four years in the making and was completed by producer/arranger Michael Hohnen.

A documentary film titled Gurrumul was also released, which Luke Buckmaster reviewed stating that: 'For Gurrumul fans, the film is obviously a must-see. For those unfamiliar, or vaguely familiar with his work, it’s an even greater treat: they will be entertained, enthralled, perhaps in some small way changed.'
 Although his solo career brought him wider acclaim, he was also formerly a member of Yothu Yindi, and later Saltwater Band.

Death

Yunupingu died at Royal Darwin Hospital, Northern Territory, at about 5 p.m. on 25 July 2017, aged 46. He had suffered from liver and kidney diseases for many years. He received tributes from Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, fellow musician Peter Garrett, and the Dean of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

"Bayini" became the first track by an indigenous musician to reach the top five of the Australian charts   Gurrumul has said about his song "Bayini".  :

Yolngu are deep thinking philosophical people. The words in the song refer to many families sitting together on the beach looking to waves and sea, the horizon, contemplating.

References

Gurrumul - Official Trailer

Gurrumul - ARIA Awards 2009

Gurrumul on BBC Breakfast

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