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Music Review: Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu – Gurrumul

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There’s only one word in the English language that could possibly describe Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu’s voice: Sublime. If it doesn’t reach inside and latch onto your soul, it’s because you don’t have one.

This is the type of music that, as soon as you hear the first few clean, clear, high tenor notes, you get goosebumps. Big time. This is not a guy singing to make a few bucks. This is not a guy singing to become famous. This is a guy singing because he has stories to tell, pure and simple. The stories are of himself and the creation stories from the Gumatj clan of the Yolngu people. Geoffrey’s is a crisp, clear, and gentle voice, yet powerful and melodic. He will make other guitar crooners – if they’re smart – want to hang themselves with their strings, or change their career plans.

Only two of the dozen songs on this CD are in English, but I hardly noticed. It was as if I could understand the lyric in spite of being in a different language. He’s got that kind of a voice, plus his music appeals to people who don’t generally have Aboriginal artists in their listening scheme.

Geoffrey, or Gudjuk as he is also called, comes from the Gumatj nation, while his mother comes from the Galpu nation. Both are First Nations peoples whose roots are in Australia’s North East Arnhemland and Elcho Island, off the coast. If any of this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because George Burarrwanga, lead singer of the Warumpi Band, also came from Elcho Island. The Warumpi Band toured with Midnight Oil over twenty years ago. The Legacy Edition of their CD Diesel and Dust was recently released, along with a DVD which is about the tour, and includes performances with the Warumpi Band.

Geoffrey has been blind from birth, is largely self-taught, and plays the guitar “upside down.” He’s left-handed, and the first guitar he was given was strung for a right-hander, since there were no left-handed guitar players in the community where he grew up. He also plays drums, keyboards, and didgeridoo. He fronts The Saltwater Band, and was formerly with another Australian Aboriginal group named Yothu Yindi.

It seems that he’s finally coming into his due, playing festivals, the famed Sydney Opera House, and other venues throughout Australia. He’s also appeared in Europe and in a special performance for the Queen of England.

It’s very refreshing to listen to a musician whose lyrics contain no political or monetary agenda. Geoffrey says “it is just his role to tell these stories, and reorganize and recreate them as his own songs,” according to a quote attributed to his producer and bassist. The simple purity of Geoffrey’s voice will stay inside you long after the CD player has shut down. All instruments and vocals are performed by Geoffrey, except for a subtle double bass played by Michael Hohnen, and occasional vocal accompaniment by four others who, by their surnames, are probably Geoffrey’s relatives. The CD was recorded in Melbourne, mixed in Darwin, and is sold by Skinnyfish Music.

You can find additional information and music at the International Herald Tribune, at the Australian ABC affiliate, at MySpace, or at YouTube.

And, finally …
Hey! Listen up, booking agents. According to Skinnyfish, they’d be open to talking with somebody about US booking for Geoffrey. The ball is now in your court.

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About Lou Novacheck