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50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #33: Dr G Yunupingu

Ziggy Ramo looks at the impact and legacy of “an important artist now and forever”, the world-renowned Dr G Yunupingu.

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time - Dr G. Yunupingu

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In December of 2020, Rolling Stone Australia released a special edition issue which looks at the 50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time, paying tribute to the best and most impactful artists in Australian music history. While it would have been easy for the editors and writers of the publication to profess their love of the listed artists, the decision was instead made for those who found themselves inspired by these world-renowned names to share their own testimonials of why these artists deserve to make the list.

In celebration of the issue’s release in December, we’re counting down the full 50 artists and their accompanying testimonials in this ongoing online feature. If you want to get your hands on an physical copy of the magazine, be sure to subscribe now to experience the double-length edition featuring some of Australia’s best and brightest discussing the finest names in local music.

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #33: Dr G Yunupingu (by Ziggy Ramo)

My name is Ziggy Ramo Burrmuruk Fatnowna. I am a Wik man, however we grew up in Gapuwiyak. My parents were adopted into the Yonlgu kinship system, so my siblings and I were born into it. Burrmuruk is my Yolngu name given to me by my Momu (grandmother). When someone dies in Yolngu culture you do not say their name. Since this artist has passed away I won’t refer to his name while I write this. 

Where do you even begin? How is it possible to capture the importance of his art? Music flowed through him, it is undeniable. Personally when I listen to his music I feel at home. I am reminded of my childhood, reminded of family and what it feels to be in Yolngu country. His music is a gift. The fact that this sacred language and culture is shared with those who tried to destroy it is not lost on me. 

I feel that I am not able to capture the importance of his music in written words. We come from an oral culture. I think we all feel that when we listen to his music. His voice speaks to 60,000 years of knowledge, culture, tradition, love, strength, pain and so much more. He is truly a transcendent artist. I remember reading that he only created music when he was inspired. Every song in its truest sense is an authentic expression. It is authentic, not just because of the languages it is in but because it is him completely. You feel his soul in every note, in every chord, in every second of his art.

“His voice speaks to 60,000 years of knowledge, culture, tradition, love, strength, pain and so much more.”

He makes me proud, his music is truly profound. However, I experience a deep sadness when I listen to his music. Australian Indigenous culture is not homogenous. There were over 500 languages spoken here. His ability to sing and create art in his own languages should not be rare, but unfortunately it is. Indigenous language, culture and knowledge is not valued in this country. His music demonstrates how wrong that is.

Regardless of your ability to understand Yolngu Matha, you can feel his spirit. He is a rare artist but growing up in Yolngu country I heard amazing voices and songs throughout ceremonies. Not only Yonlgu people, but all Indigenous Australians are some of the most talented people in the world. We just need to be given a chance. 

His music inspires me. It makes me proud to be Indigenous. His voice had an ability to cut through everything. I don’t think I have processed the fact he is no longer with us. I will forever be grateful for the music he has left behind. Music is a universal language but no one has ever spoken it like him. I am not sure if anyone ever will. I think his art is a portal to what Australia could be. A country proud of all of our history. He will be an important artist now and forever.