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Every Wednesday at 4pm the North 103.3 highlights global artists during Northland Afternoon

World Music Wednesday: Gurrumul

Black and white photo of Gurrumul. He is touching his forehead with his hand.

World Music Wednesday is a weekly segment on The North 103.3 FM. Every Wednesday at 4pm on Northland Afternoon, we will feature a brand-new release or a significantly important past work from our vast library of music from around the world.

Support for World Music Wednesday comes from Simply Ballroom in Duluth's Craft District.

Today’s World Music Wednesday takes us to the island of Galiwin’ku, otherwise known as Elcho Island, a northern territory of Australia. This is where Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu was born and raised.

More commonly referred to as Gurrumul, he was born as a member of the Gumatj clan of Yolngu. Gurrumul was born blind and did not learn braille or use a walking aid. He taught himself how to play a toy piano and accordion at the young age of four. A year later he started to learn how to play the guitar upside down due to him being left handed and continued playing like that throughout his career. Music was an important facet within Gurrumul’s life, much of his education growing up came through versions of songs, dance, and storytelling. Growing up he learned various instruments, foot stomping, vocalizations of traditional songs, and more.

At the age of 18, Gurrumul joined the band Yothu Yindi as a multiinstrumentalist and backing vocalist. He left the group in 1995, at the age of 24, to move back to Galiwin’ku where he later co-founded the group Saltwater Band in 1999. He would continue to be active with the group until 2009.

Gurrumul would sing in Yolŋu languages and in English. He first gained world recognition when he released his debut solo album Gurrumul in 2008, which would eventually be certified triple platinum. This album went on to be nominated for the ARIA Awards, winning Best World Music Album and Best Independent Release. He also won three Deadlys; Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, and Single of the Year for his song Gurrumul History (I Was Born Blind). He continued to win awards such as being named Best New Independent Artist and the album won both Best Independent Release and Best Independent Blues/Roots Release at the Australian Independent Record (AIR) Awards. This album received positive feedback from various artists ranging from Elton John, to Bjork, and Stevie Wonder.

In 2011, Gurrumul released his second album Rrakala which once again won Best Independent Blues/Roots Release at the Australian Independent Record (AIR) Awards and won Best World Music Album at the ARIA Awards. Rrakala also was certified platinum. During the release of Rrakala, the Rolling Stones Magazine declared Gurrumul as Australia’s most important voice.

Beyond winning numerous awards for his albums, Gurrumul was able to perform for notable figures such as former president Barack Obama, Prince Fredrick and Princess Mary of Denmark, as well as being only one of two Australian artists to perform at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace. He also was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from the University of Sydney, earning the title Dr. G. Yunupingu. The Gurrumul Yunupingu Foundation was formed in 2013 to engage and support young Indigenous Australians.

In 2015, Gurrumul released his third studio album The Gospel Album which once again won the ARIA Awards, Best Album of the Year.

Unfortunately, Gurrumul passed away in 2017 at the age of 46 from complications to Hepatitis B which he contracted at the age of three. Gurrumul was described as an important figure in fostering understanding between non-indigenous and Aboriginal Australians.

Following his death in 2018, Gurrumul’s fourth studio album Djarimirri (Child of the Rainbow) was released. The album was completed by his friend and producer Michael Hohnen. This album went on to receive four ARIA Music Awards; Best Cover Art, Best World Music Album, Best Independent Release, and Best Male Artist. That same year there also was a documentary released titled Gurrumul.

In 2021, Gurrumul’s first anthology was released titled The Gurrumul Story and within the same year a species of frog was discovered and named Uperoleia gurrumuli (Gurrumul's toadlet) in honor of Gurrumul. In 2022, Gurrumul was inducted into the National Indigenous Music Awards hall of fame.

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