George Rrurrambu Burarrwanga

George Rrurrambu Burarrwanga (1957 – 10 June 2007,[1][2] known in life as George Rrurrambu and George Djilangya), a Yolngu man born in the remote homeland of Matamata in the ceremonial women's birthing area under a tree, like many babies and from generations before him. He was then raised in the community of Galiwinku on Elcho Island, Arnhem Land.

George Rrurrambu Burarrwanga
Burarrwanga (left) with Seaman Dan (right) in 2002
Background information
Birth nameGeorge Rrurrambu
Also known asGeorge Djilangya
Born1957
Elcho Island, Northern Territory, Australia
OriginPapunya, Northern Territory, Australia
Died10 June 2007 (age 50)
Elcho Island, Northern Territory, Australia
GenresRock, Aboriginal music
Occupation(s)Musician
InstrumentsVocals
Years active1975-2007
LabelsPowderworks Records, Festival/Parole
Associated actsWarumpi Band

An icon of Aboriginal rock music he is best known as the charismatic frontman of Warumpi Band.

Burarrwanga's musical career began as a child through the education of Ancestral Song Lines which his father, Charlie Matjuwuy Burarrwanga mastered in depth of historical knowledge, pitch, tone and feeling. Matjuwuy was to become the most respected and sought after Yolngu ceremonial singer across Australia's Indigenous communities until his death in 2018 in his eighties.

During the late 1970's, leaving behind the seashores for the desert community of Yuendumu, Rrurrambu married Felicity Robertson and became fluent in the Walpiri language and law as if he were "learning like a baby". He and Felicity had their first child, Glenda, who is a strong advocate for the rights of community members struggling with mainstream culture and revered healer.

Yuendumu is closely located to the community of Papunya where families of both communities regularly visit one another. It was on one of these visits where George was to encounter two brothers; Sammy Butcher and Gordon Butcher together with Neil Murray musing over backyard arrangements without the confidence of a singer.

Oral history, from George recalling these initial meetings was how clearly his lead singer's role was destined in the founding of Warumpi Band. In the meantime, Neil Murray's comfort amongst the Butcher Brother's was suddenly displaced by Rrurrambu's talent, tenacity and blinding charismatic presence ... all of what was needed to take the world by storm, which even Murray couldn't resist.

In 1983 they released the single "Jailanguru Pakarnu" (Out of Jail),[3] the first rock song ever released in an Australian Aboriginal language.[4]

Three albums, Big Name No Blanket (1985), Go Bush (1988) and Too Much Humbug (1996), followed, including the anthemic songs "Blackfella/Whitefella" and "My Island Home", the latter of which was made famous when it was covered by Christine Anu in 1995.[4]

Burarrwanga performed at a number of major music festivals, including WOMADelaide, the Melbourne International Arts Festival, the Adelaide Fringe Festival, the indigenous music events Stompen Ground in Broome and the Garma Festival in Gove.

After the break-up of the Warumpi Band, Burarrwanga launched a lower-key solo career, performing to sellout crowds at the Festival of Darwin and appearing live on national television for the Yeperenye Federation Festival in Alice Springs during 2000. He then launched a solo reggae album, touring throughout the Northern Territory and then to Europe in 2002.

Throughout his career Burarrwanga was active in promoting reconciliation and cross-cultural understanding between black and white Australians. In later years Burarrwanga largely returned to traditional Aboriginal life, attending funeral and circumcision ceremonies with his father, a Gumatj clan leader. He was a proponent of combining the technical experience of white Australia with the knowledge of the land of the Aboriginal people to achieve more successful outcomes.

After his death at the age of 50 in 2007 he became known as George Burarrwanga for cultural reasons.[4] Recently, his original Yolngu name has returned to use - the liner notes to the Warumpi Band 4 Ever box set refer to him as George Rrurrambu Burarrwanga.

References

  1. "Former Warumpi Band frontman dies". ABC News. 10 June 2007. Retrieved 18 July 2007.
  2. "Father of Aboriginal rock remembered in traditional ceremony". ABC News. 11 June 2007. Retrieved 11 June 2007.
  3. "Warumpi Band on australianscreen online". Retrieved 3 March 2011.
  4. "Lead singer of Warumpi Band dies". Sydney Morning Herald. 11 June 2007. Retrieved 18 July 2007.
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