Blind Abo­rig­i­nal mu­si­cian dies in Aus­tralia aged 46

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - OBITUARIES -

SYD­NEY » A blind Abo­rig­i­nal mu­si­cian renowned for singing in his na­tive Yol­ngu lan­guage with a heart-rend­ing voice and a unique gui­tar-play­ing style has died, his record­ing la­bel said Wed­nes­day. He was 46.

Ge­of­frey Gur­ru­mul Yunupingu, whose is now re­ferred to by lo­cal me­dia as Dr. G. Yunupingu be­cause of cul­tural sen­si­tiv­i­ties among north­ern Aus­tralian Abo­rig­ines around nam­ing the dead, died Tues­day af­ter a long ill­ness in a Darwin Hos­pi­tal, west of his an­ces­tral coun­try known as Arn­hem Land, Darwin-based Skin­ny­fish Mu­sic said in a state­ment.

“Yunupingu is re­mem­bered to­day as one of the most im­por­tant fig­ures in Aus­tralian mu­sic his­tory, blind from birth and emerg­ing from the re­mote Gali­win’ku com­mu­nity on El­cho Is­land off the coast of Arn­hem Land to sell over half a mil­lion copies of his al­bums across the world, singing in his na­tive Yol­ngu lan­guage,” the state­ment said.

His de­but al­bum “Gur­ru­mul” re­leased in 2008 hit triple plat­inum in Aus­tralia, sil­ver in Bri­tain and topped charts in other coun­tries.

He re­leased an­other two top-five stu­dio al­bums —”Rrakala” and “The Gospel Al­bum” — and per­formed around the world for au­di­ences in­clud­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Queen El­iz­a­beth II.

Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull tweeted that Yunupingu was “a re­mark­able Aus­tralian shar­ing Yol­ngu lan­guage with the world through mu­sic.”

Turn­bull’s pre­de­ces­sor, Tony Ab­bott, tweeted: “A haunt­ingly beau­ti­ful voice is now still.”

More com­fort­able speak­ing in his na­tive lan­guage than in English, Yunupingu avoided me­dia in­ter­views and lived most of his life on re­mote El­cho Is­land.

He first picked up a gui­tar as a 6-year-old, learn­ing to play it up­side down be­cause he was left handed. He suf­fered years of ill health, hav­ing con­tracted Hepati­tis B as a child, which left him with liver and kid­ney dis­ease.

In 2012, he had to can­cel a num­ber of Euro­pean per­for­mances due to ill­ness, in­clud­ing per­form­ing at the Lon­don Olympic Games.

Friend Vaughan Williams took Yunupingu to the hos­pi­tal last week over con­cerns he may not have been re­ceiv­ing re­nal treat­ment more than 500 kilo­me­ters (320 miles) away at El­cho Is­land.

Williams said he felt the death was “pre­ventable,” which made it more crush­ing.

“I feel he was trapped in the same cy­cle of bad health that so many indige­nous peo­ple are trapped in,” Williams told Aus­tralian Broad­cast­ing Corp.

Abo­rig­ines are the most dis­ad­van­taged eth­nic group in Aus­tralia. They die younger than other Aus­tralians and suf­fer higher in­car­cer­a­tion and job­less rates.

Skin­ny­fish manag­ing di­rec­tor Mark Grose de­clined to de­tail Yunupingu’s health prob­lems, which he de­scribed as “quite com­plex.”

“His health is­sues are is­sues that have come from child­hood ill­ness,” Grose told re­porters. “His early child­hood is re­ally what’s marked him out for pass­ing away early.”

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