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Yothu Yindi lead singer dies, age 56

June 3, 2013

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Mandawuy Yunupingu legacy will live on

AUSTRALIAN of the Year 1992 and Yothu Yindi lead singer Mandawuy Yunupingu has died at his Yirrkala, Eastern Arnhem Land home, aged 56.

Yunupingu had been suffering with kidney disease for several years.

Biographer Robert Hillman said Yunupingu has become a legend in Australia’s music history and will be remember for bringing Indigenous issues to a larger stage. “It was part of Mandawuy’s vision that music could become a political agent in making the broad mainstream Australia more aware of the rich Indigenous culture of his people,” he told ABC News.

“Mandawuy himself is a giant amongst his people and a legendary figure in Australian music. He was also one of the generation of Indigenous Australians who saw a different way ahead, and what they brought to the consciousness of Australia is going to be valued forever,” he said.

Yunupingu, who co-founded Yothu Yindi in 1986, was the band’s leader and most prominent personality. And, in his relatively short 56 years was a major achiever in every aspect of his life. He was the first Indigenous Australian from Arnhem Land to gain a university degree, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in education from Deakin University in 1988;  He became Australia’s first Aboriginal principal in 1990; and was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2012.

Yothu Yindi with its music blend of rock and traditional Aboriginal music, won eight ARIA music awards, including Song of the Year for the highly successful `Treaty’ and released six major albums from 1988 to 2000.

Minister for School Education and former Midnight Oil frontman Peter Garrett tweeted: “Can’t believe he’s gone, my dear friend. A path breaker and leader. A shining light for his people. Rest in peace Mr Yunupingu.”

Troy Cassar-Daly tweeted: “Sad news with the passing of Yothu Yindi’s Mandawuy Yunupingu , a true bridge builder rip Brother.” And from Jimmy Barnes: “RIP Mundaawuy Yunupingu Love to your family – Jimmy Barnes.”

On January 26, 1993, Mandawuy Yunupingu was named 1992 Australian of the Year, an award presented to him by Paul Keating, in recognition of his commitment to forge greater understanding between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, and because of his burgeoning role as an ambassador for all Australians.

In December 1992, Yothu Yindi represented Australia at the launch of the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Peoples in New York and in 2000, the band performed at the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games and the opening ceremony of the Paralympics.

During 1993, Yothu Yindi joined with the National Drug Offensive to launch a campaign aimed at encouraging the sensible use (rather than abuse) of alcohol in both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal societies. In 2003, Yothu Yindi spread a message of respecting culture through Northern Territory schools by using songs, storytelling and open discussions to inspire and encourage some of Australia’s most vulnerable young people to attend school and stay healthy.

When Yunupingu was diagnosed with End Stage Renal Disease, a dietary affliction that is rampant through indigenous communities all over Australia. Consistent with his life journey, Mandawuy used his story to produce a positive effect for future generations of his people. He is survived by his wife and six daughters.

To celebrate Yothu Yindi’s induction into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2012, Yunupingu co-wrote with INXS tunesmith Andrew Farriss a new song `Healing Stone’ – the band’s first song in 12 years. Other members of the band included Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, Gapanbulu Yunupingu, Ben Hakalitz, Cal Williams, Milkayngu Mununggurr, Stuart Kellaway and Witiyana Marika. Their albums were Tribal Voice, Homeland Movement, Garma, One Blood, Birrkuta-Wild Honey, Freedom, Dots on the Shells, Treaty (Dario G. remixes). Singles included Treaty, Diapana, Tribal Voice, Matiala and Matter of Voice.

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