08 November 2009 (gig)
15 November 2009
There was a tangible air of anticipation in the Shepherd’s Bush Empire as the masses meandered into the former BBC theatre to take their seats for this Aboriginal artist, now starting to make strong headway into the vast landscape of mainstream music.
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu’s debut album, ‘I Was Born Blind’, seems to explain an important part of Gurrumul’s history but the rich tapestry of ancestral heritage that forms his make-up can only be fully appreciated when hearing him play live.
With the background screens showing filmed clips of his family back in their native land, it was easy to see how Gurrumul’s connection to his native land is at the heart of his very essence. He was led onto the stage by Michael Hohnen, his producer and double bass player and the man he relies on to communicate with the audience as he himself will not utter a word of English.
When 39-year-old Gurrumul leads the band into the first song his tenor voice resounds around the venue filling each nook and cranny along with the minds of the diverse audience transcending all ages and cultures. Singing in the Yolngu dialect of the Gumatj people the screens behind the seated guitarist speak of peaceful ideals of a bygone age and although the words cannot be directly digested the delivery itself imparts a magical quality rarely achieved by modern artists.
The Band is a simple affair of guitar and string instruments which complement Gurrumul perfectly. In-between songs Michael Hohnen explains how Gurrumul’s clan is related to the saltwater crocodile and descended from rainbow pythons, a notion that would normally have many asking which hallucinogenic drugs he has been taking, but one that remains at the heart of his very existence.
An extremely shy and reserved man who plays an inverted acoustic guitar, it was amusing to see both himself and the band attempt to play ‘Wipeout’ by The Surfaris with all their instruments upside-down, in order to show how difficult it is to master the art.
Gurrumul played most tracks of his hugely successful debut and threw in some others which were equally as good and also derive from his homeland. His vocal style resonates with those who hear it as does the cultural background so clearly incomparable to our own.
Wearing black jeans and a black leather jacket Gurrumul is the antithesis of two cultures. He imparts ancient stories in the hope of keeping alive the mainstays of his aboriginal background and on tonight’s performance he has done just that and enlightened us all along the way.