Label: SkinnyFish Music
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: July 13, 2018
Typically we feature releases from African American musicians as well as those connected to the African diaspora. We’re making an exception, however, for the Australian indigenous musician, Gurrumul Yunupingu. Known professionally as Gurrumul, or Dr. G to colleagues, the late singer and multi-instrumentalist enjoyed international success, performing at venues around the world. Gurrumul’s debut album, released in 2008 when he was nearly forty, was followed by two more very successful studio albums and two live albums, all on Australia’s SkinnyFish label. A documentary on his life was released earlier this year in Australia.
Gurrumul’s final album, Djarimirri: Child of the Rainbow, recorded just before his death last summer, is both a tribute and celebration of the artist whose “sublime voice and generous soul…occupied a prominent place in [Australia’s] cultural landscape.” The album was dedicated to the “beauty of Yolngu people, and the Aboriginal nations of Australia.”
The twelve tracks on Djarimirri weave traditional chants and songs from northeast Arnhem Land into orchestral arrangements, composed by Erkki Veltheim, with assistance from Gurrumul and producer Michael Hohnen. This was Gurrumul’s second collaboration with an orchestra, following his award winning 2013 live album His Life and Music with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. For Djarimirri, Veltheim transcribed traditional didgeridoo patterns to produce ostinato-like riffs in the lower strings of the orchestra. Other influences came from minimalist composers such as Phillip Glass and Steve Reich, creating a lush sound with undulating rhythms. The songs, sung by Gurrumul in Dhaŋu and Dhuwala, tell of the octopus, the crow, the creation spirit, and other traditional stories passed down through generations.
Throughout his life, Gurrumul’s artistry served as a bridge between the cultures of black and white Australia. What a tragedy that his unique voice was silenced shortly after his 46th birthday.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss