Asia Minute: Australia Loses a Musical Giant

Jul 28, 2017

Dr. G. Yunupingu
Credit Sam Karanikos

One of Australia’s most famous musicians died this week. He’d performed for President Obama and for Queen Elizabeth, but was best known in his own country. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

 


He was a blind guitarist who mostly sang in a language the majority of his listeners could not understand.

Dr. G. Yunupingu was an Aboriginal Australian growing up on remote Elcho Island – some 300 miles from Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory.

He sang largely in Yolngu, one of about a dozen languages in active use by Australia’s indigenous people.

But he also sang in English on occasion.

He appeared with Sting in Paris, played for royalty in Denmark, and for the diamond jubilee of the queen of England.

He also sang for President Obama, and sold half a million records around the world.

He learned guitar at the age of six, playing it upside down, because he was left-handed.

Blind from birth, he developed hepatitis b as a child—a condition preventable by a simple shot.

Liver and kidney problems followed him for the rest of his life.

Some activists are pointing to his case as a call for better health care for Australia’s indigenous people.

The musician established a foundation in his home state—creating opportunities for young people.

The custom of his culture is not to use a person’s full name after his death. The artist now known as Dr. G. Yunupingu died from complications of liver and kidney issues at the age of 46.