Review by Dom Vigil
It’s a little surreal listening to an album full of songs and stories that have been 40,000 years in the making, and even more surreal when you’re unable to understand a single word of it. Yet somehow, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu manages to make his newest album Gurrumul incredibly relatable, language barrier or not.The self-taught, blind Aboriginal musician sings in the Yolngu language, one that not many people understand, but despite that, his songs transcend language. The emotion in Gurrumul’s voice throughout this entire album is all of the understanding you need in order to really connect with his music.
In fact, the emotion in Gurrumul’s voice is the strongest part about this album. While it’s not much - he’s not belting any crazy notes or going on insanely tough or intricate runs - his soft tenor manages to touch your soul, reaching out and really making you feel what he felt while writing these songs. Having never really sat down and listened to an album of a different language, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with Gurrumul, but by the end of the first track “Wiyathul” I felt immediately connected with this music. While this really isn’t something I’d normally listen to, Gurrumul impacted me from the very first song and didn’t let go until it finally faded out.
One of the most unique parts about this album is the length of the songs and the overall song structure. While most musicians seem to stick to a mold, both in song structure and in the length of their tracks (a four minute long song being considered long by most standards) Gurrumul absolutely breaks those molds. Almost every single track on Gurrumul exceeds that four-minute mark, one of the longest and most incredible tracks on the album being the eight-minute long “Galiku.” The only downside to the length of the songs is that sometimes they seem to drag on, but that’s a very small complaint, especially when looking at the big picture of this album.
The song that stands out to me the most on Gurrumul is definitely the fourth track, “Gurrumul History (I Was Born Blind).” Obviously, this track is a stand out because it starts off in English, but the lyrics are especially touching, especially on an album full of words that you can’t understand. The lyrics, “I was born blind, I don’t know why, God knows why,” really reach out and grab you and hit you in the heart, as do the rest of the lyrics on this track. And if the one English track on the album is enough to almost bring tears to my eyes, one can only imagine what the words in every single other song on Gurrumul mean to the native speakers who can understand them.
One of the most refreshing parts about this album is the stripped down quality of it. It seems that many artists these days are all about doing “the next big thing” or trying to write the most controversial lyrics, the most catchy tunes that will get stuck in your head, but that’s not the case with Gurrumul. Every song on this album is just simple, beautiful and honest, and really, it’s something that all music should be.
Listen to "Gurrumul History (I Was Born Blind)"