Feature: Michael Hohnen on Gurrumul’s upcoming NIMAs performance
Award-winning Indigenous artist Gurrumul will be performing live at the National Indigenous Music Awards next month, held in Darwin.
The NIMAs, an annual joint awards ceremony and concert event, will celebrate this year’s achievements in Indigenous music. Since its launch in 2009, the NIMAs are recognised nationally as the pre-eminent awards for Indigenous awards. Gurrumul will be premiering three select tracks from his upcoming album, The Gospel Album.
It’s likely that these three tracks will be Jesu, Nhaku Limurr and Baptism; however, Gurrumul is known for being unpredictable with his set-list, often changing his mind at the last minute. Michael Hohnen, Gurrumul’s long-time collaborator, told TMN that those particular songs reflected the character of the album.
“They represent different elements in the sound, feeling and styles, so people get a taste for it all […] [Gurrumul] is really looking forward to showing people some of these new songs […] at a national Indigenous music event where there is usually great media plus a local atmosphere, all in one place.”
Gurrumul will be staging a low-key performance, with the intention for music being the sole focus of his set. As a result, audiences shouldn’t be expecting any visuals or fancy light show.
“Think of a single staid figure, with no bells, whistles or synthesised backing tracks, just gently planting himself down under the stars in the middle of the Gardens Amphitheatre, with his acoustic guitar singing out to the sky,” Hohnen describes.
The inspiration surrounding The Gospel Album stems from Gurrumul’s childhood, which consisted of songs and lullabies from his church at Elcho Island, as well as the traditional music of his clan. His forthcoming album is a hybrid of the two religious iconographies; an interpretation of the spiritual songs that came to North East Arnhem Land via Christian missionaries. Addressing the potential controversy surrounding the combination of two different movements, Hohnen encourages listeners to make the most out of Gurrumul’s music.
“Traditional Yolngu culture is one of the biggest assets in mainstream Australia, so taking some 2000-year-old stories and singing them in a church style, whether its about creation, or redemption or good will, then hopefully it just touches people. Gurrumul is determined to touch people […] his only question when we finish a show [is] ‘did I make people happy?’”
With that, listeners should try to keep an open mind.
“If you can appreciate the beauty of the structure and architecture of St Paul’s Church in Melbourne, or St Mary’s in Sydney, without necessarily taking on all aspects of the religion, then you can reconcile the mix of culture here,” said Hohnen.
The NIMAs will be held on July 25 at the Darwin Amphitheatre. Tickets can be purchased online or at the Darwin Entertainment Centre. Additionally, NIMAs’ organisers have partnered with Outback Stores and the Arnhem Land Progress Association to position ticket outlets in over 35 remote stores in the Northern Territory. Families living in remote communities will also have the opportunity to win a VIP NIMA experience. Visit the NIMA Facebook page for details on how to enter.
Image: Gurrumul at Yothu Yindi Tribute concert at NIMA 2013