Our condolences go out today to the family of Dr Yunupingu, the Galiwin’ku community and Gumatj clan – who have lost one of their prominent and most beloved members – as well as Skinnyfish Music, who helped to cultivate one of the most treasured careers in Australian music.
Dr Yunupingu, who passed away in Darwin on Tuesday, was not only a driving force within Aboriginal music, but his presence both on stage and off spoke volumes to those, of all ages, who came into contact with him. Speaking with close friend and collaborator Michael Hohnen in 2015 ahead of Dr Yunupingu’s national tour for The Gospel Album, it was clearly evident just how much music was part of his overall expression and provided a light throughout his life.
“I feel that music plays that same role [inducing awe],” Hohnen had told me during that interview. “No matter what culture or religion; this is just one aspect of [Dr Yunupingu’s] musical expression and something I hope people can just embrace.”
And embrace, the global audience did. Propelled on by the success of his namesake 2008 record, Dr Yunupingu’s profile and journey to stardom took him from the terrain of remote Northern Territory to stages throughout Europe, American audiences with President Barack Obama and even as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee concert, televised to millions.
Still, if you had even a passing moment of contact in Dr Yunupingu’s presence, the humility, kindness and humour he expressed never waned. The last time I saw Dr Yunupingu perform, he was a part of the National Indigenous Music Awards ceremony in 2015. His voice cut through the balmy tropical Darwin night air with a precision I’d not heard so uniquely; I remember being awe-struck and was unable to draw myself away. Like Sting commented in 2014, Dr Yunupingu’s voice was that of ‘a higher being’.
The loss of this great talent is a devastating blow to the Aboriginal community and indeed, the artistic community of the Northern Territory, but in the wake of his passing, we celebrate the legacy Dr Yunupingu has left for generations of Indigenous musicians to look to – one we can all look to. Having inspired many with his story and his music, Dr Yunupingu is more than just what the chart statistics and album sales have elevated him to be in the eyes of the global industry.
His name is one with respect and reverence long attached to it; his artistry and body of work is evocative, captivating and timeless. 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 abroad too.
Dr Yunupingu will most certainly be remembered as one of the most prominent and entrancing figures of Australian music in years to come and we feel blessed to have had the experiences of seeing him perform and watching his music touch so many, particularly over the last decade.
For more information about the Dr G Yunupingu Foundation, visit here.