Gurrumul is a magnificent celebration of life and voice

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu was born on Elcho Island in Arnhem Land and although he was blind from birth, he never used a white cane, had a guide dog or learnt Braille. He expressed himself through music and song and was part of the Yothu Yindi Band for some time. It was the release of his self-titled album in 2008 that brought this reluctant and incredibly shy artist to the attention of the world and director Paul Williams has the privileged of capturing Gurrumul’s life on Elcho Island and as he takes his music to the world in the documentary Gurrumul (★ ★ ★ ★ ★).

The opening of this incredible documentary is narrated by his Gurrumul’s aunty but the audience is left staring at a black screen. “Close your eyes and open your hearts to see him clearer” she instructs and even though Gurrumul only sings in the Yolngu languages, his voice manages to touch your soul. The fade to black is used several times during the film, reminding us of Gurrumul’s sightless world.

Living a traditional life in far North East Arnhem Land, Gurrumul has had to overcome many challenges and his family feared for his survival when he was young. He adapted and taught himself to play a toy piano and an accordion as a boy. As a left hander, he learnt to play a right-handed guitar upside down. When the demands of taking his music to the world took him away from his people, his co-manager Mark Grose faced a difficult task of trying to keep a balance between Gurrumul’s two different worlds.

Gurrumul is a magnificent celebration of an Indigenous Australian who has been recognised by the world as being an important voice for his people. I’m sure there wasn’t a dry eye in the cinema footage shows when he got together with Sting at a Paris concert to sing Every Move You Make. Gurrumul died in 2017 and his family have given permission for the film to be shown because they wanted to celebrate his life.

Gurrumul screens at UWA Somerville 12-18 February and at ECU Joondalup 20-23 and 25 February. On Monday 12 February Paul Williams, Johnno Yunupingu and Michael Hohnen will be at Somerville.

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