Traditional Micronesian music focuses on vocal performances rather than on the few instruments that are indigenous to the region, such as the shell trumpet and the nose flute. Micronesians are known to sing from early morning, while “toddy cutting” (pdf) (more about “toddy cutting” below) to the late night end to a session of dance.

According to Jane’s introduction to Micronesian music, there are three ways a Micronesian composes a song in the traditional style:

1) the composer doesn’t really compose the song, but instead lets it come from the spirits after entering a trance
2) a patron hires a musician to compose a song, most often a love song
3) a composer starts writing an original song by humming, then eventually adds instruments.
(Read about how this works in Kiribati, where traditional “composers,” who are believed not to actually have to compose because the music comes to them “by magic,” are called “te kainikamaen.”)

However a Micronesian song comes into this world, once it arrives it most often convinces the body to move. There is a lot of dancing in Micronesia, much of it communal dancing at festivals and celebrations and cultural performances. Chuuk is particularly known for its stick dancing (people in Yap stick dance too, and the same with Pohnpei).

There are “standing dances” (like this one from Yap and this one from Kiribati), and “sitting dances” (like this one from Kiribati).

In the Marshall Islands there is also the “Beet dance,” a Spanish-inspired folk dance in which dancers move according to complex rhythms in parallel lines. (These Beet lines aren’t the most parallel, but the dance sure looks like fun. These lines are more parallel, and the dance still looks like fun).

Since the colonization of Micronesia began in earnest a couple centuries ago local musicians have embraced international styles. For example, a substantial proportion of singing that happens in Micronesia takes place in church and at church-related functions, with church-friendly musicians finding inspiration in the multi-part harmonies of church choirs worldwide. Secular musicians in Micronesia have become well-versed in the music of the countries that colonized the region and have woven those sounds and sensibilities into their own songs; for example, Palau’s three decades of Japanese domination still resonate musically, as do the more recent years of relationship with the U.S.

More information:
Jane on the music of micronesia | Jane’s Micronesia Music Anthology | Enjoy David
Fanshawe’s “Spirit of Micronesia”
| What are the top 10 Micronesian songs EVER? | When you search Google looking for “live performances of rock music from the Marshall Islands” you find this.

In class we’re going to listen to music from two Chuukese artists, vocalist Relinda (“Riafou Mwo, Weires”), who is widely cited as the most popular female pop vocalist in the Federated States of Micronesia, and Ozeky (“Omw Kapas”), a well-respected Micronesian reggae star. (Watch Ozeky’s autobiographical video for “A Faltala.”)

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