I would like to share with you some thoughts
on the traditional and modern music, as well
as dance forms of New Caledonia. As you well
know, New Caledonia is a multi-cultural society,
the original inhabitants are Melanesians with
links to Papuans and Australian Aborigines,
and they often refer to themselves as
'Ti-Va-Ouere', or 'Brothers of the Earth'.
There are an estimated 27 Kanak languages
coexisting in New Caledonia. However, after
being actively discouraged - or at least ignored -
by the French, there is no single unifying
Kanak language. The clan, not the individual,
was the most important element of traditional
Kanak culture, and la coûtume, a code
encompassing rites, rituals and social interaction
between the clans, is the essential component
of Kanak identity today. It also maintains a
crucial link with the individual's ancestors.
The later inhabitants are often referred to as
'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
As mentioned above, the indigenous Melanesian
inhabitants of New Caledonia are the Kanak
(formerly also 'Canaque'), and comprise 45% of
the total population of New. Caledonia. The word
is derived from kanaka maoli, a Hawaiian word
which was, at one time, applied indiscriminately by
European explorers, traders and missionaries in the
region to any non-European Pacific islander. Prior
to European contact, there was no unified state in
New Caledonia, and no single self-appellation used
to refer to its inhabitants.
Other words have been coined from Kanak in the
past few generations: Kanaky is an ethno-political
name for the island or the entire territory. Kanéka
is a musical genre associated with the Kanak,
stylistically a form of reggae with added flutes,
percussion and harmonies. Kaneka often has
political lyrics and is sung in Drehu, Paici or
other Melanesian languages, or in French. Kanakas
were Pacific islanders (not just Melanesians) who
were abducted to Australia, Chile or Canada to
perform forced labour during the 19th century.
The German racial epithet Kanake (now applied
to all non-whites, or even southern Europeans,
but originally to Oceanians) also derives from
For the Melanesian people of New Caledonia,
music-making was an important element of
traditional ceremonies such as initiation,
courting or the end of mourning, and always
accompanied dance and song. Sometimes instruments
were played simply for the clan's entertainment.
Above all, however, Kanak music is vocal. There
are no Kanak words for music or musical instrument.
Rather their terminology is more appropriately
translated as 'sound-producing' instruments, the
classing example being the conch shell, which,
when blown, represents the call of the chief or
the voice of an ancestor. Many instruments were
made for a specific occasion, and include rhythm
instruments and bamboo flutes.
Other traditional instruments used in ancient
Kanak culture were:
Jews-harp (wadohnu in the Nengone language
where it originated) made from a dried piece of
coconut palm leaf held between the teeth and an
attached segment of soft nerve leaf. When the
harp is struck, the musician's mouth acts as an
amplifying chamber, producing a soft, low sound.
Coconut-leaf whizzer (maguk-in Pije): a piece
of coconut leaf attached to a string and twirled,
producing a noise like a humming bee.
Oboe: made from hollow grass stems or bamboo.
End-blown flute: made from a 50cm-long hollowed
pawpaw leaf stem. The pitch varies depending on
the position of the lips and how forcefully the
air is blown through the flute.
Bamboo stamping tubes: struck vertically against
the ground and played at main events.
Percussion instruments: These included hitting
sticks, palm sheaths that were strummed to hit,
and clappers made from a hard bark filled with
dried grass and soft niaouli bark, tied together
and hit against each other.
Rattles: worn around the legs and made from
coconut leaves, shells and certain fruits. Conch
or Triton's shell: used like a trumpet on special
occasions and played by a special appointee.
The Kanaks have developed dance 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.
Most contemporary Kanak music is labelled 'Kaneka',
a musical concept that incorporated both current
techniques and Kanak heritage that blended modern
instruments with ancestral harmonies and rhythms, and
married traditional stories and legends with lyrics that
call for an end to repression. Most songs are sung in
Kanak languages. Sadly, much of the traditional music
of New Caledonia has been forgotten, and there is only
a limited number of musical expressions from which the
young musicians can take their ideas. The most evident
link between kaneka and their grandfathers' music is
the use of traditional percussion instruments.
However, how percussion instruments accompany
traditional singing and how they accompany kaneka
music can show important differences. Perhaps the
typical Melanesian element in kaneka lies not in
the music itself but in the way the musicians treat
kaneka as a cultural and political movement.
Immensely popular with young people throughout
the country, Kaneka's chief exponents are bands
such as Mexem (from Lifou), Gurejele (Mare) and
Vamaley (Voh). A contemporary Kanak group that's
big with teenagers is OK! Ryos, a young trio from
Mare headed by Edouard Wamejo.The most well-
known modern record label on New Caledonia is
Alain Lecante's Mangrove Studios, which distributes
much of the Kaneka music.
In order to listen to some of the above contemporary
music, you are invited to Jane Resture's Pacific
Islands Radio at: Pacific Islands Radio -
www.pacificislandsradio.com and click on
Jane Resture's flagship station at the following URL:
Pacific Islands Radio
On a final note, I would like to mention that Pacific
Islands Radio has always been very proud to feature
the music of Australian Aboriginal group Yothu Yindi,
whose song 'Treaty', a plea for understanding between
black and white Australia, became an International
Indeed, it was sixteen years ago that lead singer,
Mandawuy Yunupingu, sang his way into the heart of
the nation with this Anthem of his people and, in
1993, he was named Australian of the Year.
Sadly, last January 2007, a now very frail Yunupingu
entered a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre. The
man, so many thought of as an inspiration to us all, is
now fighting for his life. Winning the battle for sobriety
is just one of Yunupingu's health challenges. He is also
diabetic and will soon have dialysis treatment for renal
failure. He is a long way from the optimistic voice that
spoke from his warrior's heart, a heart that carried the
hopes of so many Australians, black and white.
The story of Yunupingu is intrinsically tied to the
struggle of his people and his family name is synonymous
with the struggle for Aboriginal land rights.
Yunupingu is well aware that, with substance abuse and
diabetes-related illness killing so many of his people,
this is one battle that he cannot afford to lose - not
only for himself and his family, but also for those who
have been inspired by him and, in particular, through
If I may, I would like to humbly ask you all to join with
me in extending to this most remarkable man, Mandawuy
Yunupingu, our warmest wishes, along with our loving
thoughts and prayers.
Mandawuy, along with his artistic and talented band,
Yothu Yindi, have certainly provided the inspiration
for a splendid-shared understanding and vision between
indigenous and non-indigenous people, both in Australia
For a little more information on Australian Aboriginal
music and Mandawuy Yunupingu, you are invited to visit:
Paul Taylor is an acclaimed storyteller and didgeridoo
player who has collaborated with Don Spencer, one
of Australia's most recognized children's performers,
to produce a most interesting album entitled 'Cooee'.
The word 'Cooee' describes a shout used in the Australian
outback mainly to attract attention, find missing people, or
indicate one's own location. When done correctly - loudly
and shrilly - a call of "cooee" can carry over a considerable
distance. Historically, the call began as an Indigenous
Australian custom borrowed from the Aboriginal Dharuk
people, the original inhabitants of the Sydney area, and has
now become widely used in Australia. From the word 'cooee'
an expression "within a cooee of" has developed. It means
"not far from", and its use seems to be mainly confined to
Australia and New Zealand.
As the title of the album suggests, Cooee, Taylor's fourth
album, has a rich and diverse Australian content and
includes songs from the indigenous Australian people
featuring traditional instruments such as the didgeridoo or
yidaki, an ancient Aboriginal musical instrument from the
tropical north of Australia. It is generally a branch of a
tree eaten out by termites.
The album also features the sounds of the Australian bush
along with colonial songs such as Botany Bay and The
Dying Stockman. This album is recommended for those
people who would like a greater understanding of
Australia's musical heritage.
For those people who are interested in traditional Australian
Aboriginal music, it is perhaps worth looking out for an album
entitled 'Bushfire: Traditional Aboriginal Music'.'Bushfire' was
recorded in the Kimberley's in Australia and features some of
the finest musicians of the region. There are two styles of
songs on the album, 'Wongga' and 'Djunba', which are traditional
styles that have been in existence for thousands of years. Each
of the songs have their own stories to tell, from daily happenings
to legends that have been passed down through many generations.
This album is highly recommended for lovers of traditional music.
That's all for now my friends. Today is the end of another busy
week being Friday, may I wish you all a blessed and wonderful
weekend. See you all later.
For further information, please check out my four Domains and associated pages: