Review Scene: RISING: Bungul, Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne

Bungul : A heart-felt collaboration to honour Gurrumul’s last album

Gurrumul’s posthumously released album, Djarimirri (Child of the Rainbow), celebrates his life by bringing together Western and his Yolŋu family’s musical traditions.

As part of the RISING festival, and to further celebrate his work, this breath-taking live performance features Yolŋu dancers and songmen in a carefully crafted performance that brings the tracks of Gurrumul’s album to life,  augmented with stunning visual imagery, important pieces of artwork and vibrant stage projections.  Nestled amongst all of this, is a Melbourne Symphony Orchestra ensemble who seem to relish their role in the performance.

We are given insight into the powerful stories contained within each of the 12 tracks beginning with Baru, about the ancestral crocodile’s journey and how it, among other things, gifted fire to the Yolŋu through to Djapana, an important sunset to the Yolŋu that tells of ending and renewal and Wulminda, with many layers of interconnected meaning, associated with the coming monsoon it also references the mind and all the knowledge of the mother country and clan stored there.

The staging has thoughtfully merged modern and traditional elements to create a mesmerising result.  Traditional ceremonial dance takes place on a large circular pit in centre stage, flanked by traditional singers and musicians.  An enormous screen above depicts scenes from nature, ceremony and art.  At times, full sized projections of paintings blanket the stage. All this entwines with recordings of Gurrumul’s voice performing his songs, supported by orchestral music.

This is a unique collaboration where the connection and synergy between each of the elements has been thoughtfully curated and the trust and musings between the traditional performers and the orchestra could be clearly felt.  The show conveyed a sense of earnestness and devotion to its work and later playfulness, as traditional performers gave a nod to rock culture and joked and interacted with the audience.

Conscious restraint has been applied to each track to give it space and time to be fully realised, never overpowered by the orchestra and with brief pauses in the form of black screens and silences followed by an introduction for each track that included moiety, clan and language, demonstrating respect for different identities.

The work was directed under the watchful eye of Senior Yolŋu man Don Wininba Ganambarr and Nigel Jamieson. Music by Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, Erkki Veltheim and Michael Hohnen.  The Musical Director and Conductor was Erkki Velheim.

The mesmerising nine performers were Nebbie Burrarrwanga, Robert Burrarrwanga, Mark Guruwiwi, Terence Guruwiwi, Jaimie Yunupingu, Teo Yunupingu, David Yunupingu, Kyle Yunupingu and Nelson Yunupingu.

This show is a generous gift that provides insight into Gurrumul’s final compositions and allows us to experience traditional values, dance and ceremony rarely seen in this setting, along with a notion of the influences from North East Arnhem land.

For more information, see RISING