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    Around the World in 80 Songs: Papua New Guinea

    It’s not surprising that few acts out of Papua New Guinea have found international recognition. The country is largely rural and connections are made difficult by the mountains and rainforests. Television is only readily available in the capital of Port Moresby and most of PNG is connected to the outside world only through government radio.

    It’s interesting then, that the contemporary music of the island has so many outside influences. As in most South Pacific nations, music has an important place in community rituals. Until the 1870s, there was almost no contact with the rest of the world.

    Then, the Christians found them. Since then, traditional music has evolved to include religious hymns and chants as well as indigenous music of the many different cultures inhabiting the country. There are two official—and over 700 unofficial—languages in PNG. Most of the modern music has some mix of the two (English and Pidgin).

    Here’s a video of a yearly cultural festival that draws about 100 different tribes. It provides a glimpse into the diversity of tribal dress, song, and dance. Check out the last tribe, known as the Huli Wigmen. That hair you see on their head is their own. But it’s been cut off and fashioned into a wig that takes years to finish.

    Reggae is a modern style that has found some amount of popularity in PNG. The video below is an artist called O-shen. The song is called Jah Music and it’s definitely reggae, but in the instrumentation underneath, you can hear some sounds that are unfamiliar in western music—sort of a steel drum and also a flute-like wind instrument.

    Another artist, called Straky, has a sound that is very reminiscent of the Caribbean. How appropriate then that he sings a song called Island Girl. There's a bizarre little interlude half way through, but mostly it's just a kick-back-and-relax-on-the-beach kind of tune.

    One final song from this same genre is Naike by an artist calling himself Haus Boi, which is the term for a men’s lineage house in a village. The song feels a little wistful to me. The video images give it a little bit of a mundane feel, like it’s the background music to just another day in the rainforest.

    Singing Hemuliva, Steve Lahui mixes in the more traditional string instruments like the ukulele with an underlying rock beat to produce a much more Polynesian sound.


    Massive Sound System is a hip hop group that started releasing songs on PNG radio in 2005. Their tune Everywhere sounds like something you could hear on any Top 40 station in the US.

    As usual, I save my favorite for last. George Telek has been a regular on the PNG music scene since the 1970s. In the song West Papua, he sings a ballad calling for independence for the western half of the island of New Guinea, West Papua, which is an Indonesian province. Watch the video carefully, boys. There are boobies.


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