Originally written for Cinemaaxis.com
Music is a universal language. The art of Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, born blind, is more than music; his voice speaks to everyone despite the language barrier, it transcends everything in order for him to sing about his culture, his life in the small island of Elcho Island, known locally as Galiwin’ku. Despite his blindness, without the help of a cane or guide dog, his ability to play instruments is amazing considering this disability. But his voice is what will give you chills. Just close your eyes and listen. A true highlight is his rehearsal for a show with Sting, compared to his performance an hour later.
Gurrumul is the best musician in Australian History, and despite Aboriginal customs, this film was allowed to be made after his passing to preserve his legacy. The film doesn’t paint him as a martyr, rather, an extremely shy man who had flaws like any of us. His connection to his culture and land clashed heavily with Western society, especially media commitments as he rarely talked. This is where his relationship with his manager comes into play, as the trust built between them lasted for many years. Michael Hohnen often spoke for him and was present for every show to lead Gurrumul on and off stage.
Not preached in any sense, this documentary is a perfect example of a culture that we don’t understand being leap-frogged by the power of music. It is a statement that Aboriginal culture is to be savoured, not feared. The difference between their beliefs and ours must be understood rather than being swept under the carpet. Given the Australian Government’s continuous attempts to ‘assimilate’ Aboriginal people, their music amazingly lives on, as does the hundreds of different communities, languages and spiritual stories. Gurrumul’s story will hopefully open some eyes, both in Australia and abroad.
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