Live Review: Buŋgul

28 January 2020 | 11:09 am | Alasdair Belling

"It’s deeply saddening that we will never again experience these songs sung live by their originator."

If there was any doubt of the huge influence the late Dr G Yunupingu had on the artistic landscape of Australia, one only had to behold the reflective awe and reverent respect exuded by music fans of all backgrounds as they filled the hallowed Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House for the tribute event Buŋgul, held in his honour.

Buŋgul translates to meeting, and there was certainly a sense of unity to this celebratory and completely immersive experience of contemporary First Nations culture.

Dr G Yunupingu’s posthumous fourth album, Djarimirri (Child Of The Rainbow), the first record sung in an Indigenous language to top the ARIA charts, was the centrepiece of the event. The entire record was performed by members of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, against pre-recorded original guitar and vocal lines, while nine Yolŋu people performed corresponding dances, on a stage covered by sand like the desert floor. To be an audience member felt like witnessing a sacred ritual played out in the heart of the desert, with only the occasional light falling on the stalls reminding us of the true location of the performance.

To add to the experience, each song from the album was accompanied by a corresponding video showing scenes of both country and culture giving a raw look into the cultural tapestry behind each song.

It’s deeply saddening that we will never again experience these songs sung live by their originator. The presentation of them in such a raw, beautiful way, on the eve of contentious Australia Day celebrations no less, felt like an immersion into the rich and beautiful country of Dr G Yunupingu (Arnhem Land’s Elcho Island). It was impossible to walk away and not feel overwhelmed by the beauty that came with the collision of ancient and contemporary First Nations artforms.