Wizard of Oz
Australian aboriginal singer Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu kickstarted the Oz Fest in Delhi, winning hearts and admirers along the way. As his emotive music reverberated through the Purana Quila, FE takes a look at the enigmatic man behind the velvety voice
The Sher Mandal at the Purana Quila (Old Fort) in the Capital was turned into a canvas of moving 3D projections giving the ruin a surreal look, splashed in vivid colours, lights and fascinating patterns. The stage was set against this visually magnificent show, which seemed to hold a promise that something special was going to transpire on stage. And what started as a visual feast soon turned into a musical extravaganza, complemented of course by the awe-inspiring backdrop. This was the opening night concert of the Oz Fest in Delhi, inaugurated by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly a man representative of the thousands of years of Australia's aboriginal culture and music. It was to some extent an irony that Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, increasingly getting recognised internationally as one of the true and rare gems in the Australian music industry couldn't visually sense the opulence and magnificence of the venue and the stage he was set to perform on. Other performers included sitarist Anoushka Shankar and twice-Grammy-nominated Australian didgeridoo virtuoso Mark Atkins.
The aboriginal singer-songwriter, who was born blind, was escorted on to the stage by his close friend and band member, Michael Honnen. Gurruumul did appear to be shy from his mannerisms, which were in contradiction to the pomp and the larger-than-life air that one often sees around many an international star. He quietly took his seat as Honnen introduced him to the crowd. And instantly, as Gurrumul held his guitar upside down (he's left handed) and struck a chord, his melodious, fragile and extremely emotive voice filled the huge expanse of the fort. He wasn't able to see the hundreds of admiring gazes focused on him, but he sure must have felt them. On the mic, this otherwise timid artiste oozed with confidence and comfort that was representative of his intrinsic, almost destined bond with sound and music. Gurrumul is a member of the Gumatj clan on Elcho Island, off the coast of tropical North East Arnhem Land, and sings in a language called Yolngu, spoken by just a couple of thousand people. Yet, the language was not a barrier, and his voice was warm, inviting, velvety and even mesmerising.
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