The second album of an artist whose indigenous voice broke into the music industry first-time round.
It is in the seventh track of Gurrumul Yunupingu’s album that his music is at its most powerful. Firstly because it is has his infamous soaring melodies, showing off his voice to its fullest (Sting once said that it was the ‘voice of a higher being’). But also because it is when the traditions of folk seem to collide fully with those of the his Aboriginal community. Djottara (the name given to all Gumatj women) tells of a girl’s distress at being parted from her home; ‘her thoughts’, the translation says, ‘[are] like the wail of a harmonica’. That her cries have to be translated, in itself, is another kind of isolation, adding to the feeling of someone far from home. Yet the voice which echoes ‘the wail of [the] harmonica’ shows that some sounds do cross linguistic borders and those of traditions.
Oh. The above sounds like a bit of cheap shot. Like I’m undermining Gurrumul as a musician. His last album won multiple awards at the Australian Recording Industry Association’s 2009 ceremony and went double platinum, this is not just a man putting traditional music on to tape. Since his last album’s success he has worked hard to delve into other genres and instruments within his own cultural context and RRAKALA shows his melodies and arrangements at their best. Yet you can also see a kind of personal exploration of what it means to be a figurehead, what it means to intersect with a wholly different musical world. And as my enthusiasm for the track that I mentioned above shows, it is possible to appreciate Gurrumul for more than just his undeniable spirituality. Katy Browse