Good Or Shit: Gurrumul - world music or Australian music?

12 July 2012 | 12:06 pm | Liz Galinovic

I hope that Gurrumul’s overarching ability to touch people with his music is a sign that perception in this country is starting to change.

What is it about Gurrumul? Seriously, has anyone actually thought about this man's success? Beyond “he has the voice of an angel” type of stuff? Beyond his right-hand-strung-left-hand-playing guitar skills and the fact that he is blind? It's bloody hard for an Australian musician to get world praise and recognition; it's notoriously hard for an Aboriginal person to get any praise for anything in this country; and here is Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu hanging out with royals and presidents, cleaning up awards, and moving everyone to tears. What. Is. It?

I've always been a sucker for solidarity. Take me to an anti-war rally - where hundreds to thousands of people (depending on which war) take to the streets with flags and banners and placards, where many voices come together to form a single unifying voice as they shout slogans like “Israel, USA, how many kids did you kill today?” - and I will cry.  It's the same at the end of the theatre, or a concert, when everyone comes together to applaud whatever they have just witnessed, I find my body becomes electrified with shocks of energy and I immediately begin to tear up. It's this being a part of something, something shared, something powerful, powerful in its being shared, that really moves me.

I think this is what happens when I listen to Gurrumul.

Gurrumul does indeed have a beautiful voice; he devises moving and wistful melodies; he plays quite a few instruments. He's a musician for goodness' sake, this is what we expect from him. But when I hear him sing in his own language, when I hear that distinct accent, a sound that undulates and reverberates, I feel a sense of, um, well I guess it's patriotism.

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

Knowing he's singing about his ancestors; fascinating, beautiful and vast cultural traditions and spiritual beliefs thousands of years old and living on in his songs; songs about a unique hunk of land with flora and fauna the rest of the world can't wrap its head around; my home; which he and his people understand in ways I would love to learn more about, and what I do know from them I not only appreciate but completely respect.

Outside of Australia his music is referred to as world music. Inside Australia he won an ARIA for said category. Why is an Aboriginal Australian man singing in an Aboriginal Australian language over folk guitar winning awards for best world music? Isn't this Australian music?

I hope that Gurrumul's overarching ability to touch people with his music is a sign that perception in this country is starting to change. That maybe more and more Australians are joining others in the realisation that we don't have a true national identity until we fully embrace and celebrate the culture and heritage of our Aboriginal people. When I hear Gurrumul's music, sure, I feel the same aural pleasure everyone else does. But when I hear him sing in his language, of his land, which is my home, I feel an enormous sense of solidarity and pride.