At times so much attention can be placed on lyrical content, the verbal comprehension, hidden meanings and back stories behind favourite songs that become so intrinsic to our understanding, comprehension and relatability. At other times, none of this is actually possible due to language barriers yet the music has no lesser impact on emotion, feeling and enjoyment simply from being shared and heard. Having been completely taken aback after seeing Gurrumul support Missy Higgins last year, there was no possibility of missing the opportunity to see him live again, this time with Philharmonia Australia at the Melbourne Festival, and supported by Sarah Blasko.
It’s only been in the last year or so that I’ve really started listening to Sarah Blasko’s music, particularly with the release of I Awake. After mesmerising with a small selection of material from each of her three previous albums, hearing a selection of tracks from I Awake in a stripped back setting was a treat, accompanied simply on piano by David Hunt to a polite and receptive audience. The arrangements allowed Sarah’s vocals to soar and shine throughout, enveloping emotion and feeling throughout I Awake, An Arrow, Cast the Net and the intensity of Not Yet.
With the orchestra on stage and tuning to concert pitch, anticipation loomed for what was to be an evening of music and stories behind the songs. Appropriately titled His Music and Life, the evening provided insight into the meaning and significance behind songs on the self-titled Gurrumul and Rrakala, as well as some new material in the works. The footage from Gurrumul’s family opened with sharing the integral role that music played in his life, using empty tins for drums and the three chords that formed his introduction to the guitar. More importantly, hearing about the importance of his music in bridging cultures and sharing stories exuded pride and joy in Gurrumul’s work.
Opening with Wiyathul, we soon learnt about the significance of the octopus before being introduced to a new piece. The beauty of elements and nature continued with Djarimirri, tales of being covered and surrounded by rainbows and the spirit bird before DJilawurr. Baru provided an opportunity for everyone to be involved and become salt water crocodiles. The delay of sound travelling from the back of the bowl down to the stage was unprecedented but did allow Gurrumul to ‘feel’ how far back everyone was.
The connection to spirits continued with Bayini, performed with Sarah Blasko for a beautiful duet that was the absolute stand out of the night (most probably because I’d been anticipating a joint performance the entire night!). While the travelling theme of Wukun and autobiographical Gurrumul History (I was born blind) would have been a perfectly fitting conclusion, an encore performance of ‘Gathu Mawula’ was a triumphant end to a night of captivating performance and riveting vocals from Gurrumul.
Gurrumul performing Wukun on the night:
Gurrumul & Blue King Brown – Gathu Mawula