* Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island readers should note this story features images and the voice of someone who has died.
The death of Dr Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, the Aboriginal singer from Elcho Island lauded as “the greatest voice this continent has ever recorded”, at age 46 in July last year shocked the nation and global music industry.
Blind from birth, Gurrumul’s eponymous album, released a decade ago, went triple platinum. He was left-handed and learnt to play the guitar upside down, joining the acclaimed rock band Yothu Yindu, founded by his late uncle, M. Yunupingu.
The Yolngu man’s solo career garnered world-wide acclaim amid performances before former US president Barack Obama, and Queen Elizabeth II for her diamond jubilee concert. Now he appears to have left a final, astonishing legacy, a new album, Djarimirri (Child of the Rainbow) due for release next month.
His family have given permission for Gurrumul’s name and image to be used to preserve his artistic memory and inspire others.
Gurrumul’s record label, Skinnyfish Music, has released the first track “Djolin (Musical Instrument)” and it’s breathtaking in both its scope and ambition, fusing Gurrumul’s extraordinary voice with a lush and epic orchestral arrangement that fuses Aboriginal culture with contemporary classical Western music.
The orchestration takes its inspiration from minimalist composers such as American Phillip Glass, and Britain’s Michael Nyman. Skinnyfish calls it “one of the most ambitious projects in Australian music history”.
Here it is:
Gurrumul’s long-time musical collaborator, Skinnyfish creative director Michael Hohnen, said the album took four years to make and was finally finished just a few weeks before his friend’s untimely death.
“We had played many of the pieces live over the past few years of touring and planned how the pieces would work before we recorded them in the studio,” Hohnen said.
“He was immensely proud of what we achieved on this album and it is an emotional experience for all of us to present this final enormous chapter in his story with this musical statement.”
The duo spent 2017 listening repeatedly to the songs and “pulling them apart and putting them back together until all the elements shone” and were ready to release the album when Gurrumul died from renal disease, an illness that can otherwise be easily treated and managed.
His record label describes Djarimirri (Child of the Rainbow) as “Gurrumul’s gift to the world, an astounding achievement of music, presenting traditional songs and harmonised chants from his traditional Yolngu life with dynamic and hypnotic orchestral arrangements in a blend of the highest forms of both his culture and our European orchestral culture”.
The album will be released on April 13, with a self-titled documentary on Gurrumul’s life by Paul Williams, hitting Australian cinemas less than a fortnight later on Anzac Day. The film, the story of his struggle in balancing family, country and traditional life with an international music career, received a standing ovation at the Berlin Film Festival last week where it made its international premiere.
You can pre-order Djarimirri (Child of the Rainbow) as a digital download or on CD here.
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