Blind Aboriginal singer spurns critical acclaim

Author: By Rob Taylor at the Australian music awards

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, 37, has been blind since birth and speaks almost no English, but has become a sensation in his homeland, with a haunting, lilting voice and lyrics sung in three indigenous languages which few Australians understand.

“He captures a very particular feeling that is part of Yolngu culture, about pining but at the same time feeling happy, about longing for your land but not worrying about it,” his spokesman Michael Hohnen said.

The acutely shy Gurrumul, a self-taught guitarist who plays his instrument upside down, stunned crowds at the annual Australian Record Industry Awards night on Sunday, winning the best independent release award. Critics have described his voice as having “transcendental beauty”. Others compare it to “slow rain”.

Sting, Elton John, and the Icelandic singer Bjork are fans, along with the Australian former rock star and Arts Minister Peter Garrett, who said the Elcho Island-born singer had written the greatest songs he had ever heard.

“You’re hearing 80,000 years coming out of one little throat,” said Hugh Benjamin, a critic. Gurrumul has refused to give in to public hype and said he uses music awards to open clams at his island home in Arnhem Land, 350 miles east of Darwin.

When Gurrumul sings live, English translations of his songs are usually beamed on to a screen behind him. The singer rarely talks to the media and feels that journalists are “hunting him like a kangaroo, trying to spear him”,

Mr Hohnen told The Age newspaper. Gurrumul’s performance brought awed silence to the crowd, stealing the night from the teenage singer Gabriella Cilmi, who won six categories, including best female artist.

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