Music is what plugs you into a culture and a nation. It speaks of an era, vibrates the social climate and hums a feeling shared by all those listening. Music is an integral part of the culture in Papua New Guinea. From the hauntingly beautiful chants of the tribal people to the smooth beats of their modern reggae bands, it offers up a smorgasbord of music to move the body to and shape memories.
Traditional Papua New Guinean music is an artful expression of tribal culture and their way of telling a story to their audience. Sing-sings (traditional celebrations) demonstrate the beautiful call and response chants that are accompanied by handmade instruments made from natural materials from the local area. The Garamut is a popular drumming instrument known as a ‘slit drum’. It is carved from a felled tree and engraved and painted in different stages. It is known as the ‘voice’ and when struck with a specifically carved stick, it rings out many different vibrations and speaks its own language among the people.
Up until the 1870’s the music was considered “true traditional” and was not influenced by the outside world. Music began to change when the Christian Missionaries arrived. The church rose and so did the popularity of church hymns such as the Gregorian chants. Prophet songs or “peroveta anedia” from Polynesia seeped in around the same time too. Soon English songs were being taught in schools and the first recordings of Papua New Guinean music were made by members of an anthropological group. Then UREUKA! The gold rush hit and the mouth organ was introduced by Australian miners. This popular metal instrument replaced the similar bamboo one in many areas. Over the decades many new instruments were introduced. War times and social unease saw new songs, new sounds and a new feel to the once simple, yet beautiful, traditional musical ways. These outside influences were only the beginning of a new wave of song and dance and Papua New Guinea would soon see their talented artists embrace the many styles of the west and rise to international fame in the years to come.
In the 1960’s the creative and free loving vibes reached Papua New Guinean shores and popular bands such as the Kopy Kats, Stalemates, Iarowari Drifters and Paramana Strangers were formed. These iconic ensembles put Papua New Guinea on the music map. At the end of the 1970’s a local recording industry appeared and artists like Sanguma and George Telek began weaving native and western styles of rock and jazz together. Around the same time, Reggae’s soulful beats tapped their way in through a band called the Black Brothers. Anslom Nakikus is Papua New Guinea’s most popular Reggae artist today with two albums recorded, the most recent one named Fool Moon. He is loved locally and in Reggae circles all over the world.
No matter how much of the world has sunk its influential fingers into Papua New Guinea, people are still fascinated by its raw, natural beauty. In 1991 Anthropologist Dr. Steven Feld along with American percussionist and musicologist Mickey Heart’s high-quality equipment recorded ‘Voices of the Rainforest’. He captured Papua New Guinean daily life with the sounds of bird song, villagers making sago and flowing creeks which are interspersed with Kaluli songs and instrumental sounds. The album takes the listener on an intimate tour of the landscape and the lives of the people and culture.
It is nearly impossible to visit Papua New Guinea and not be immersed in the colourful music scene. Paga Hill Estate is located in Port Moresby where you can get a taste of the eclectic tunes of the cafes and bars and still be lulled by the traditional song and dance of the locals.
Gudmundur (Gummi) Fridriksson, is the CEO of Paga Hill Development Company (PNG) Ltd, overseeing the development of Paga Hill Estate, a world-class, master planned estate located in the heart of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Gudmundur first arrived in Papua New Guinea over 20 years ago and is passionate about sharing PNG’s natural beauty and diverse cultures with the world. Find out more about Gudmundur Fridriksson on his website: http://www.gudmundurfridriksson.com/ and about the Paga Hill Estate development at http://www.pagahillestate.com