Who'd wanna listen to me? The humble genius of Dr. G. Yunupingu

Who'd wanna listen to me? The humble genius of Dr. G. Yunupingu

To honor a cultural taboo among Aborigines from northern Australia, following Mr. Yunupingu's death, many supporters and much of the Australian news media have refrained from publishing photos of his face or using his given names, referring to him instead as Dr. G. Yunupingu.

His death triggered a wave of tributes from the Australian music community and beyond.

Dr Yunupingu's impact as both a musician and community leader is an invaluable one and undoubtedly, one that will continue to be felt not only on Galiwin'ku land and through Australia, but overseas too.

From his remote origins among the Galiwin'ku community on Elcho Island (off the coast of Arnhem Land), Yunupingu blossomed as a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist, becoming adept with a number of musical weapons, the most distinct of which was arguably his striking vocal ability.

The singer, from the remote community of Galiwin'ku on Elcho Island, 500 kilometres east of Darwin, was a founding member of the groundbreaking Yothu Yindi band before shooting to solo stardom in 2008, winning an ARIA Award for his namesake album. He was left-handed and learnt to play the guitar upside down, joining the acclaimed rock band founded by his late uncle, M. Yunupingu, Yothu Yindu. He will continue to fill the world with his music and aspiration.

His debut solo album (simply titled as his first name) went triple-platinum in Australia after its 2008 release, with sales of around 210,000, and silver in the United Kingdom, where it sold 60,000 copies.

In 2011 Yunupingu was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone as "Australia's most important voice".

As someone who has worked in itinerant camps as a homeless outreach worker, Williams said he believed that it was an indictment on society that one of Australia's most high-profile and awarded musicians had died while living in similar circumstances.

He was described by The Sydney Morning Herald critic Bruce Elder as possessing "the greatest voice this continent has ever recorded".

"It is as though Yunupingu has reached into a wellspring so deep it transcends cultural barriers".

Dr Yunupingu played with Sting in Paris, and performed for former USA president Barack Obama, and Crown Prince Frederik and Princess Mary of Denmark.

Yet the singer's death has been tinged with some controversy over concerns about the treatment of indigenous Australians in the health sector.

Yunupingu, who performed at the Queen's Diamon Jubilee Concert in London in 2012, died at Royal Darwin Hospital on 25 July after enduring "a long battle with illness".

The hospital firmly denied the suggestion. The ABC reports that his friend Vaughan Williams was contacted last week by people in Darwin concerned about his health.

"I feel he was trapped in the same cycle of bad health that so many Indigenous people are trapped in".

Firstly, and on the simplest level, the fact that we are not mentioning his first name and not using images of this tender and lovely human being is a reminder that, in parts of Australia like his home on Elcho Island, off the coast of Arnhem Land, there really are deeply held traditional Aboriginal beliefs which, while largely unknown to most non-Aboriginal Australians, deserve to be honoured and respected.



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