Renowned Abo­rig­i­nal mu­si­cian touched the world

The Washington Post Sunday - - OBITUARIES - new­so­bits@wash­post.com

Ge­of­frey Gurrumul Yunupingu, a blind Abo­rig­i­nal mu­si­cian renowned for singing in his na­tive Yol­ngu lan­guage with a heart-rend­ing voice, died July 25 in Dar­win, Aus­tralia. He was 46.

His record­ing la­bel, Dar­win­based Skin­ny­fish Mu­sic, an­nounced the death but did not dis­close the cause.

Mr. Yunupingu is now re­ferred to by lo­cal me­dia as Dr. G. Yunupingu be­cause of cul­tural sen­si­tiv­i­ties among north­ern Aus­tralian Abo­rig­ines for nam­ing the dead.

“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, be­came a global smash. He re­leased two other top-five stu­dio al­bums — “Rrakala” and “The Gospel Al­bum” — and per­formed around the world for au­di­ences in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Queen El­iz­a­beth II.

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

More com­fort­able speak­ing in his na­tive lan­guage than in English, Mr. 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, as a child con­tract­ing hep­ati­tis B, which left him with liver and kid­ney dis­ease.

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