Earlier today Paul Kelly gave the following tribute to his long-time friend and colleague Dr. Yunupingu at the state memorial service at Gulkula in north-east Arnhemland.
In four and a half minutes Paul gave as fine a tribute to a friend as I’ve heard or read.
I bring my respect, my condolences.
To Yalmay, to Galarrwuy, the whole family, all the clans, traditional owners past and present.
Thank you for having me on your country.
He called me brother.
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He called the whole country — the whole world — brother and sister.
So today I call him brother.
I first met brother over twenty years ago in Chicago when he and his band opened up for Midnight Oil.
The first thing I remember about him was his smile. His big, beaming smile. His proud head, curly hair, his colourful headband. Standing there in jeans in the middle of a great spectacle of sound and dance.
Backstage, in our very first conversation, he quoted a line from one of my songs that talked about the Honey Sun.
He said “Honey Sun. Thats my dreaming.”
I only realised later that within the first few seconds of meeting me, he joined our cultures and found common ground.
This is what he did.
Not just with me, but with so many people that he met.
He found the meeting place. The hinge. The point of balance.
When he asked me here to this country to work on Yothu Yindi’s second record and to write a song about the treaty, I was struck by how so often he used that word.
Around the camp fire at Birany Birany when we started the song, he talked of the balance of parent and child, of Dhuwa and Yirritja.
Of freshwater and saltwater.
Balance was the heart of his world-view and the heart of the band, who blended the tribal and the modern.
Art and Politics.
Seriousness and celebration.
They were much more than a band. They were a physical philosophy. A philosophy you could dance to.
Yothu Yindi’s first record had traditional songs and modern rock songs but they were on separate tracks.
For their second record, brother — very consciously — very deliberately, sought to combine the two elements within each song. This is how he and the band found their style and in doing so they pioneered a style that reverberates today.
English verses would suddenly give way to manikay.
Drums to bilma.
Bass to yidaki.
Then back again.
Then all in together.
Their music expressed the duality of their culture and also the duality of Australian culture in general.
And that music went around the world.
In this country and in others young people were inspired to pick up their instruments and play.
You can see and hear Yothu Yindi’s influence everywhere.
You can see and hear it directly in those directly influenced by the band.
But their influence was much wider and more subtle than that.
Their example gave pride and encouragement to indigenous bands all over the country and to all bands and singers and artists they showed us a way.
All great art contains contradictions and struggles to reconcile opposites.
This was Yothu Yindi’s daily work, their daily bread.
And we are all richer for it.
Balance is the heart of life, is the heart of art.
Balance is the heart of the dance.
I thank you man of balance.
I thank you brother.
Long may you dance.
** Thanks to 105.7 ABC Radio Darwin for posting the audio from which this transcript was written You can hear the original here.