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Warumpi Band, The

This Australian band was formed in 1980 by Neil Murray (a white Victorian working in the Papunya region of the Northern Territory as a schoolteacher and labourer), George Burarrwanga (an aboriginal from Elcho Island) and local aboriginal boys Gordon and Sammy Butcher.

The band had many line-ups over the years, with Murray and Burarrwanga the only consistent members, although Sammy Butcher usually joined in – as long as band commitments didn’t take him too far from home for too long.

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In 1983, the band recorded Jailanguru Pakarnu, the first Australian rock song using an aboriginal language – in this case, Loritja (the title translates as ”out of jail”). The single created some mainstream media interest, and the band made a few trips to the city (both Melbourne and Sydney) for live gigs and TV appearances.

In Sydney, they built up a loyal following in the northern beaches pub rock scene, and played as support to Midnight Oil.

In 1985 the band released their debut album Big Name, No Blankets, featuring the track Blackfella/Whitefella, and in 1986 they embarked on the ”Blackfella/Whitefella Tour” along with Midnight Oil.

The band recorded their second album, Go Bush! (1987) after the tour – which included the Murray-penned masterpiece My Island Home – but the strain of balancing family commitments with the band took its toll and they were unable to capitalise on the groundswell created by the tour.

Neil Murray embarked on a solo career in 1990, though the band still reunited when it fitted in amongst their other activities. 1996 saw the release of their third and final album – the ARIA nominated Too Much Humbug – and a brief European tour.

In the following years, reunion gigs were sporadic, generally for festivals and other one-off appearances. In 2000, Neil Murray retired from the band for good, concentrating on his solo career which by that time had produced several critically acclaimed albums. George Burarrwanga continued to perform as a solo artist and released an album.

Burrawanga died of lung cancer on 10 June 2007. Sammy Butcher remains heavily involved with a recording studio in Alice Springs and has recorded an album of instrumental guitar songs.

George Burarrwanga
Vocals, didgeridoo
Neil Murray
Guitar
Sammy Butcher
Bass, Guitar
Gordon Butcher
Drums

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