Gordon Koang is a fountain of warmth and joy, immediately accepting of any stranger who finds themself in his presence. With a beaming smile that is unfettered by his blindness, a condition he has lived with since birth, Gordon welcomes any and all around him, encouraging them to sit awhile and talk, maybe even to share a song.
The Nuer musician, hailing from the banks of the River Nile in what is now South Sudan, is a legend in his own right. Born blind, he began playing music on the streets of Juba as a young man, where he quickly gained notoriety. Crowds would gather to hear his music, predominantly gospel hymns or extended, historical pieces charting the history of the Nuer people and their heroes. Accompanied by his cousin and lifelong companion Paul Biel, Gordon began self-producing tapes and CD’s, which were sold on the street and changed hands between communities. Before long, others had caught on, and Gordon became a grassroots hero, the voice of the Nuer people and a prominent figure in the fight for cultural independence in South Sudan. More recordings and music videos quickly followed, and Gordon’s status as the legendary ‘King of Music’ was confirmed, with some dubbing him ‘The Michael Jackson of South Sudan’.
Urged on by expatriate communities in Canada and the United States, Gordon Koang and Paul Biel began touring, performing to packed out halls and churches throughout North America. They then travelled to Australia, where, toward the end of 2013, news reached them of renewed conflict back home. Making a heartbreaking and difficult decision, Gordon and Paull decided to stay on in the foreign country, refusing to board a flight home and instead applying for humanitarian protection. They left behind wives and children, in the hope that their asylum would be quickly granted and both families would be reunited in safety.
Unity is, remarkably, Gordon’s eleventh full-length album, and his first since coming to Australia. It is his only recorded output in the painstakingly long six years of living as an asylum seeker, and the album was completed just weeks before Gordon was awarded his permanent residency. He could have had no way of knowing the immanence of this reward, and yet there is no frustration in the songs, no impatience or anger – only Gordon’s unending positivity, his love of all people and of the world he has never seen.