Saturday, September 11, 2010

Music of Oceania

This Newsletter will focus on issues
relating to Pacific Island music. It will
also embrace some of the exciting changes
taking place in the Internet Radio Revolution,
as well as updated information on our Pacific
Island Artists, Programming and Playlists.


In this edition of our newsletter, it is my
great pleasure to be able to discuss briefly,
with all of you, our most valued members,
the wonderful music of Oceania, in terms of
its origins, its similarities and those many
things that make Pacific Island music most
unique and beautiful.

The people of Oceania, in common with
all of mankind, have a common origin in
Africa. The migrations to the Pacific
region, however, came about through
different routes and over a long period
of many tens of thousands of years. The
first to arrive were the Melanesians who
are by far the oldest ethnic group in the
Pacific region, and who are the proud
owners of a very rich and diverse
cultural heritage.

The Melanesians were followed much
later by the Polynesians whose migratory
path took them through Taiwan, and along
the back of the Melanesian archipelago
of Papua and New Guinea, the Solomon
Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji,
until they finally settled in Tahiti, Samoa,
Tonga, the Cook Islands, New Zealand,
Tuvalu, as well as the remote Easter Island.

The last to arrive were the Micronesians
whose journey took them much later through
the scattered islands of Micronesia, located
mainly to the north of the Melanesian Islands.
They settled on the main Micronesian islands
of Guam, Palau, Saipan, the Federated States
of Micronesia (Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei and
Yap), the Marshall Islands and Kiribati.

The traditional music of Melanesia, Polynesia
and Micronesia thus had very little in common
in terms of musical styles. What the music did
have in common was that, in the absence of
any written language, much of the music had
a religious significance and was originally
chanted to appease or call on the gods.
Some of the chants are also part of the oral
traditions of the people and these special
chants documented our history in a manner
that could be handed down from one
generation to the next.

In Melanesia, Christian missionaries disapproved
of Papuan traditional music throughout the colonial
period of the country's history. Even after
independence, the outside world knew little of the
diverse peoples' traditional music genres. The first
commercial release to see an international audience
didn't occur until 1991. After 1872, Christian hymns
were also introduced with the Gold Rush bringing an
influx of Australian miners who introduced the mouth

The best known traditional celebrations, which
include song, dance, feasting and gift-giving, is the
singsing. Vibrant and colourful costumes adorn the
dancers, while a leader and a chorus sing a staggered
approach to the same song. Since 1953, singsings
have become extremely competitive in nature, with
contests occurring in Port Moresby, Mt Hagan and

Television was introduced to the country in 1993,
and American popular music continued to affect
Papuan music following on from the diffusion of
radio since World War II. By the end of the 1970s,
a local recording industry had appeared, and artists
like George Telek, began to successfully integrate
native and Western styles like rock and jazz.
Indeed, the music of George Telek is proudly
featured on Pacific Music Radio, Pacific Islands
Radio and Radio Melanesia.

The traditional Melanesian music of the Solomon
Islands includes both solo and group vocals, as
well as slit drums and panpipe ensembles. Panpipe
orchestras, which are well-known in Malaita and
Guadalcanal use up to ten performers with
different instruments, each with unique tunings.

In the 1920s, Bamboo music gained a following in
several Melanesian countries. Bamboo music was
made by hitting open-ended bamboo tubes of
varying sizes, originally with coconut husks.
After American soldiers brought their sandals to
the Solomon Islands, these replaced coconut husks
by the early 1960s, just as the music began
spreading to Papua New Guinea.

Modern Solomon Islander popular music includes
various kinds of rock and reggae, as well as a
distinctive original form of music known as island
music which features a guitar and ukulele ensemble
format influenced by Polynesian and Christian music.

The traditional music of Vanuatu featured instruments
such as the tamtam drum, which is intricately carved
from a log, as well as panpipes, conch shells and
gongs.The music industry of Vanuatu has grown
rapidly since the 1990s.The early part of that
decade saw bands forging a distinctly Vanuatuan
modern musical identity, with artists such as the
young talented and gifted artist, Vanessa Quai,
following in their footsteps.

In New Caledonia, music is a fundamental
element of every traditional ceremony, and
the range of instruments includes conch shells,
rhythm instruments and bamboo flutes. The
Caldoches, or white New Caledonians, are
mostly descended from French convicts and
have forged their own culture, more akin to
that of rural Australians or rural Americans
than the metropolitan French. Among the
Kanaks, dance has developed into a high
art form. The traditional pilou dance tells
the stories of births, marriages, cyclones
or preparations for battle, although colonial
authorities banned pilous in 1951 for the
high-energy and trance-like state they
induced in the dancers.

Throughout Polynesia, song and dance are
integral parts of the same cultural elements.
The dance is used to illustrate the lyrics by
moving the hands or arms with some dances
being performed while the dancers are seated.
Traditionally, dance moves do not illustrate the
song's narrative, but rather draw attention to
specific words and themes; in modern times,
however, dances are more often explicitly
narrative in their focus. There are also
traditional dances performed without lyrics,
to the accompaniment of percussive music.

Within songs, the lyrics are by far more
important than the melodic accompaniment,
with elements such as rhythm, melody and
harmony being traditionally viewed as
accompaniment to the primary focus, the
lyrics, serving to embellish, illustrate
and decorate the words.

The most important instrument is the voice,
though multiple varieties of slit drums and conch
shells are also popular; the human body is used
as an instrument, with clapping and knee-slapping
used to accompany songs and dances. Other
instruments include the pandanus, a sitting mat that
is also used as a percussion instrument, nose flutes
and derivatives of Portuguese guitars like the
ukulele and slack-key guitar.

Throughout Oceania, the missionaries did all
they could to wipe out traditional Polynesian
culture by levelling temples, destroying carvings,
and banning tattoos, and that heady, erotic
dancing that Bougainville told Europe about.
The missionaries sought to make the Polynesians
follow the teachings of the Good Book and their
own autocratic commandments, but fortunately
some of the traditional ways, including our
traditional music, survived. Recently there's been
a strong push to revive old ways and rediscover
traditional arts.

Traditional musical instruments include pahu and
toere drums and the nose flute called a vivo.
Guitars and ukuleles made their way into Polynesia
and the locals developed a unique song style that
owes much to country and western music in form
but has a distinctive South Pacific island flavour.
Traditional dance, based on the traditional music,
has also slowly made its way back into Polynesian

In common with the music of Melanesia and
Polynesia, Micronesian music is influential to those
living in the Micronesian Islands. The traditional
music is highly spiritual and is based around the
ancient Micronesian mythology. The music can
call upon one of the gods or spirits for a blessing
or help in a task to be undertaken. The music of
Micronesia covers a range of styles from
traditional songs, handed down through generations,
to contemporary music, much of which comprises
contemporary interpretations of the traditional
spiritual music.

Micronesian traditional music, like much Polynesian
music, is primarily vocal-based. In many cases, this
results from the lack of suitable material on the many
low-lying coral atolls of Micronesia to construct the
kind of drums and other percussion instruments
available to the Melanesians and many of the

Music is an integral part of life on the islands of
the Pacific. Indeed, the songs and dances are woven
into the very fabric of everyday life. Life, love,
work, play, the ocean, the gods, the earth itself;
they all flow through the music of the Pacific Islands,
as surely as the sand erodes into the sea. Pacific
Island music is truly the music of the world and is
proudly featured on our four Pacific Islands Radio

Thank you so much everybody for your continual
support, and I do hope that you enjoy our News
and Views in this special edition of our Newsletter.
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Thank you and enjoy your day.

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