Gurrumul @ Barbican Centre, 6 October
Review by Ben Gurvich
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu is not known for speaking. What he is known for is having “the voice of a higher being” according to music legend, Sting. Filling the Barbican Hall in London, Gurrumul, his special voice and his accomplished band played tracks off his self titled debut, and his new album, Rrakala to a transfixed crowd of many ages. And, to much surprise, he even managed to get in a few jokes.
Support act, Hobart singer/songwriter Dewayne Everettsmith, quickly earned his name on the program next to Gurrumul. Sounding equally good in English and in his indigenous language, he triumphed love songs for his wife and dug deep to tribute his late mother. Marching barefoot on the spot, Everettsmith created the feeling you were really with him for the journey. His voice was a vista, and combined with double-time staccato strumming, his sound appeared bigger than one man and a guitar ought too. His stand out track ‘Shelter’ was penned for his 2007 Australian Idol audition.
For the main act, waves sound and the voices of friends and family tell of Gurrumul’s story for the uninitiated. Led to his guitar by his mentor, friend and “Wapu”(Yolngu for ‘brother’), Michael Hohnen introduces himself as Gurrumul’s voice for the night, (Gurrumul rarely speaks). Hohnen fills in the stories behind the songs and explains some of their Indigenous themes. Gurrumul fills the hall with his perfect sound and the crowd sits in awe. The duo soon become a five piece, realising many of the impressive arrangements on Rrakala penned by Gurrumul himself.
There is a commitment in Gurrumul’s voice that rises above all else and Hohnen even adds some shine as he harmonises on the haunting ‘Bapa’, a song concerning the role of the father for the Yolngu people. Hohnen requests and the audience participate willingly by tapping their feet as Gurrumul sings a song of his totem, the saltwater crocodile. The song picks up steam and Gurrumul takes the audience onboard with “C’mon 1, 2, 3, Go!’” It’s clear he’s enjoying himself now.
With some hard work done. Hohnen warns us of the upcoming country version (not his favourite genre he adds) of “Ya Yawirriny” the beach song. Gurrumul enjoys handing Hohnen his medicine and the crowd laughs as one when he lets fly with, “take it away boys!”
Hohnen talks of touring and surprises, and he doesn’t exaggerate, as suddenly Sarah Blasko (also on tour in the UK) takes to the stage and the two voices soar in a song about a female ancestor, watching over Arnhem Land. And just as quick as Blasko arrived, she is gone.
For his second encore, Gurrumul plays his best known song, ‘Gurrumul History’ (‘I was born blind’), and it receives the biggest appreciation from the crowd yet. It’s clear they still want more but the enigmatic Gurrumul exits the stage the same way he entered with Hohnan, his “Wapu” taking him by the arm.