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Gurrumul, An Unlikely International Star, Reaches U.S. Ears

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The Australian musician and singer-songwriter Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, who goes by simply Gurrumul, is an international star. He has sung a duet with Sting, performed for Britain's Royal Family and President Obama and even graced the cover of Rolling Stone, who called him "Australia's most important voice." That's remarkable for a man who was born blind, is extremely shy and doesn't speak much English.

Gurrumul's songs, like his own life, encompass a span of human experience as great as any on earth. His native language is unintelligible to all but a few thousand people in northern Australia; a generation ago his people roamed the bush. On the other hand, he has been to New York, to Paris and to London. And while his lyrics invoke the myths of his people, thoroughly unfamiliar stuff to Western ears, the music is essentially acoustic folk, inspired by tunes from the U.S. and Britain.

Gurrumul's self-titled debut album, which originally saw release in Australia in 2008, hit shelves in the U.S. this week. This singer does not give interviews, but his bass player and producer Michael Hohnen spoke with NPR's Robert Siegel about how the Australian star's songs encompass a span of human experience as great as any on Earth. Hear their conversation at the audio link.

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