Few albums of the past decade resist simple categorization as Gurrumul’s 2018 release Djarimirri: Child of the Rainbow does. Gurrumul hailed from Australia’s Elcho Island as a member of the indigenous Yolngu people. Born totally blind, he never learned braille or used a guide dog and was intensely shy. A self-taught pianist and guitarist, he caught national attention for his haunting and ethereal voice and was supported by Bjork, Sting, and Elton John among others. His final album was consciously made as an attempt to spread his native culture to the broader western world. Sung in various Yolngu dialects, each of the twelve pieces are narratives based on indigenous folklore. Executives at Skinnyfish, a label created to feature Indigenous Australian music, wanted this album to be accessible to the broader public in way that most traditional native music couldn’t be. Gurrumul’s mystically fueled and haunted vocals paired with surging classical orchestration, clearly inspired by the artists such as Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Arvo Part, resulted in the record hitting number one on the Australian Charts. Never before had an indigenous artist reached the top of the charts. Just weeks after the closing of the production, Gurrumul’s career came to an end with his tragic and unexpected passing. The soaring and redemptive sounds found on the record seem to hint at the deeper hidden currents of life and death.
By David Enabnit