CULTURE, feature -

Yirrkala festival goes off as boring people vote

Who cares about an election?

Last Saturday, the first annual Yirrkala Yarrapay (Morning Star) Music & Dance Festival drew more than 2,000 people to the creative hotbed of Yirrkala on the north-eastern tip of Arnhem Land.

The spectacular celebration of Yolngu art and culture was dedicated to the vision of late Yothu Yindi singer, Dr Mandawuy Yunupingu, and featured stellar guests from a broad sweep of indigenous Australia.

Yolngu superstar Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, a surprise performer at the one-day festival, was drawn in from Elcho Island by the unprecedented buzz sweeping the land. Shellie Morris, East Journey and Yothu Yindi founders Witiyana Marika and Stu Kellaway were among the local legends taking to the outdoor stage of the community’s Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre under clear tropical skies.

While millions of disinterested Australians spent their day voting for in an election nobody cared about, festivities began with a historic Yarrapay Bunggul down the main street of Yirrkala, a traditional Welcome to Country, and dedication from Dr Yunupingu’s wife, Yalmay Yunupingu, cultural advisor to the festival, who welcomed people of all colours and ages from every corner of the land:

“This is where Dr Yunupingu started his music from, and he took his music to the world, so I’m feeling very emotional today. It’s the first festival we ever had, and we’d like to make this an annual event,” she said.

The lavish celebration that followed included the debut of Rachael Wallis’s contemporary Moonfish Dance Company, and a catwalk fashion parade by local models including Yirrkala’s own stunning Magnolia Maymuru, the Northern Territory’s Miss World finalist. Melbourne-based Yolngu singer-songwriter Yirrmal and dance-pop band Ezy 5 were rapturously received local favourites.

Musicians from further afield included Larrakia-via-Adelaide hip-hop artist Jimblah and Sydney dance-pop sensation, Justice Crew. The Medics, stars of the 2012 National Indigenous Music Awards, came together for the first time in over a year for the festival, and fellow Brisbane rock outfit Mary Handsome joined with members of Yothu Yindi to perform that band’s landmark song of cultural affirmation, Tribal Voice.

Twenty-one year-old Yirrkala dancer Ineke Wallis, recently selected to represent her people at the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous People in Geneva, was one illustration of the festival’s intent to spotlight gifted emerging community leaders. Yalmay and Dr Yunupingu’s daughter, Dhapanbal Yunupingu, performed her Double J playlisted single “Gurtha (The Fire)” featuring Shellie Morris.

In all, 206 performers contributed to 21 performances spanning a breathtaking spectrum of music, dance and fashion. The festival generated 100 employment contracts, 90% of them in Northeast Arnhem Land, with 27 community and business organisations uniting in support. The majority of the 2000-strong audience calls Yirrkala, Gove, Gunyangara, Gapuwiyak, and Wallaby Beach home.


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