The music of pre-colonized Polynesia was almost entirely vocal, full of chants and story-songs that interacted intimately with dance. When European settlers came–specifically, when European missionaries came–they brought instruments such as the guitar and ukelele, elaborate church hymns that glimmered with multi-part harmonies and, quite often, a ban on pre-contact songs because of their perceived aggressive, sensual and/or non-Christian spiritual nature. Polynesians adopted Western musical forms with great success, particularly the church hymns, which they sang rhythmically and with cascading harmonies, emphasized by grunts or nonsensical syllables, and, uniquely, with vocal phrases ending with notes that twisted downward. Today’s Polynesian music is a mix of all these things–Western in form and structure, but still deeply intertwined with the islanders’ natural rhythms, spiritual take on the world, and drive to dance.
Dance dance dance! Tuvaluan music is inextricably bound to Tuvaluan dance. The fatele, for example, is a Tuvaluan dance form with Eruopean-influenced melody and harmony that takes place in a competitive environment, with two groups of villagers trying to best each other. Typically a group of older men sing a song, beating rhythms on cabin cracker cans and wooden boxes, and dancers tell the story with their dance. [See a fatele. And see another.] The fakanau is a fast, rhythmic dance that missionaries banned centuries ago, not only because they found it suggestive but because Tuvaluans used it as a spiritual dance as part of their indigenous religion, which the missionaries also banned. Today Tuvaluans have begun to bring back the fakanau. [See a fakanau.] The fakaseasea is a slow, expressive dance during which dancers create their own actions that express the meaning of the accompanying song. [Listen to a fakaseasea song.] A kupu is a Tuvaluan funeral song that is similar to a fakaseasea but also includes crying sounds. [Read more from JaneResture.com about Tuvaluan singing and dancing.]
Good morning, Tonga!! Wake up in Tonga and you’ll probably rouse to the radio. The ubiquitous Radio Tonga, the government-sponsored station that describes itself as “The Call of the Friendly Islands”–not to be confused with “Tonga Radio”–starts its broadcast each day with a recording by Ve’ehala, a Tongan nobleman and master of the nose flute. (According to Wikipedia’s entry on the music of Tonga: “The nose flute is otherwise rarely heard. Contemporary youth prefers the guitar.”) After a bit of nose flute, Radio Tonga embarks on an extensive daily program that broadcasts in Tongan, English, Fijian, and Samoan. In addition to Tongan news, especially in times of cyclones,”and “overseas retro music, mostly from the seventies and eighties” (according to Wikipedia), Radio Tonga broadcasts Fijian, Samoan, Hawaiian and, of Tongan music, which has always been an important part of life in Tonga. Tongan music comes in several flavors: “traditional music,” “church music” and “secular music”:
Tongan Traditional Music:
Tongan traditional music is not actively popular in Tonga, though the royal court preserves it in formal ceremonies, at the nobles’ weddings and funerals, and at the ancient Tongan ceremony of hu lou ifi. Tongan traditional music features the lali drum (also known as a “slit gong”) which church congregations that don’t have money use in place of a church bell.
Hiva kakala, meaning “fragrant songs,” or “love poems,” may not be ancient but they’re becoming part of Tongan tradition. Queen Sālote, who ruled Tonga from 1918 to 1965, wrote some of the most popular Tongan love songs.
Tongan Church Music:
English Methodist missionaries arrived in Tonga in 1822 and by 1830 had converted most of the population to Christianity. Church hymns, complete with multi-part harmonies, became all the rage in Tonga; most churches had, and still have, active and engaging choirs. Most Tongan church music is performed a capella (with no backing instruments), but in Weseleyan Churches brass bands accompany the singing, a tradition that may have accompanied missionaries from Northern England.
Tongan Secular Music:
Tongan youth listen to Western popular music, whether or not their elders and church leaders approve. (And whether or not the government, which censors some Western songs, allows certain music to be imported into the country.) Local custom dictates that music with risque content is not appropriate to be played in public, at least when both men and women are present.
The music of Tokelau is often choral and communal, harmonious and alight with percussion, which community members play on
instruments such as the pate (log drums–Joe Monga demonstrates the pate), the pokihi (wooden box) and the apa (biscuit tin).
Like Tuvaluans, Tokelauans dance the fatele. Watch some Tokelauan song and dance, accompanied by a pokihi.
The most widely known Tokelauan band is the Te Vaka, and they’re awesome. We’ll learn about them below.
Samoans sing and sing a lot, in public and private, with enthusiasm, whether or not they can carry a tune. Vocals are at the heart of Samoan music, though there is often percussion accompaniment on drums like the pate (the hollowed-out log), the fala (a rolled-up mat), the soundingboard, the jaw harp, the raft panpite and the nose flute. Since Westerners arrived Samoans have adopted the guitar (kitara), the ukulele and brass instruments. Samoan musicians compete against each other in joyous musical/theatrical events known as fiafias, during which they may perform traditional dances such as the siva Samoa or the Samoan sasa. [See a Samoan dance performance at a fiafia.] During World War II American Marines brought American popular music, which quickly became Samoan popular music. Samoan bands readily copied this music, and still today sing Western popular songs with their own Samoan lyrics.
Jane’s Oceania overview of Samoan music | Is SamoanMusicandVideo.com really “the World’s Only Website 100% dedicated to Samoan Music, Video, Entertainment and Information?” | Who is your favorite Samoan musician?
THE COOK ISLANDS:
The music of the Cook Islands is rhythmic, harmonious and lively. Drumming (rutu pa’u) forms the foundation of traditional music and dance from the Cook Islands, for example, in “action songs” (kapa rima) in which drumming sets the tempos and ukeleles and guitars play the melody. Many of the popular drums in Polynesia such as the pate and the tokere originated in the Cook Islands, though they arrived in French Polynesia in the early 1900s and have since become identified with Tahiti. (Cook Islands-born percussionist and political science professor Jon Jonassen sets the record straight. [scroll down to the music section for an excerpt.])
Before there were guitars and ukeleles in the Cook Islands most all songs there were chants (pe’es) that honored ancestors and brave warriors. Missionaries banned the ancient pe’es and the practice of singing them died out, though new pe’es have been written, such as pe’e tuoro where are welcome chants used at the start of formal functions. [Here’s an example of a newly written Cook Islands pe’e.]
Cook Islanders express themselves through ‘imene, which is a genre that covers:
— contemporary songs (like Cook Islands string bands)
— ‘imene reo metua, which Protestant missionaries brought to the Cook Islands in the early 1800s, beginning as melodies from German barroom ballads on which composers imposed Maori-language hymns.
— ‘imene tuki, unique to the Cook Islands, which include elements of pe’e like guttural grunts. During the all-important yearly Cook Islands Constitution Celebration a committee organizes ‘imene tuki competitions for which performing groups all receive the same Bible verse to use the basis for their compositions. We’ll learn a bit more about ‘imene tuki below.
— ute are celebratory songs that have long been part of most Cook Islands social gatherings, except for a time during the 1950s and 1960s when churches banned them because of their association with “bush-beer” parties. [Enjoy an exuberant ute.]
Cook Islanders continue to make music, and lots of it. While contemporary recording artists in central Polynesia used to go to Tahiti to record their contemporary songs (called au ‘imene ‘ou), record labels and production facilities have begun to take root in the Cook Islands.
Both the Manihiki greeting song (“Welcome to our island home”) and “Mikimiki” are from the Cook Islands.
Jane’s Oceania on the Music of the Cook Islands (Great overview. Thanks Jane!) | Listen to samples from Jon Jonassen’s “Drum Beats of the Pacific” | Listen to Radio Cook Islands, AM 630khz. Radio Cook Islands is a small station–“It uses a 5kW transmitter but this has had to be cut in half due to power costs”–but, luckily for us, streams over the internet.
In class we’re going to listen to:
— Penina O Tiafau, “Valovalo mai manu ole vaveao”
Penina O Tiafau is a vocal duo from Samoa composed of, well, Penina and Tiafau. At present you can’t find out much about them online, but you can enjoy many wonderful Penina O Tiafau tracks on YouTube, such as “Nofo I Salafai,” “Mafaufauga” and “Taualaga a Solomona.” Like what you hear? Buy Music of Samoa–Volume 1 | Fluent in Samoan? Check out some of Penina O Tiafau’s lyrics
— Te Vaka, “Pate Pate”
Te Vaka is a New Zealand-based “South Pacific Fusion” band composed of members from, and drawing on the musical styles of, islands all over the region like Samoa, the Cook Islands, Tuvalu and Tokelau. Award-winning pan-Pacific singer-songwriter Opetaia Foa’i (born in Samoa and raised in New Zealand, he is half Tokelauan, half Tuvaluan) formed this group of eleven musicians and dancers in the mid-90s. The band has since toured the world, introducing international audiences to invigorating Polynesian rhythms and culture. They sing “Papa E,” which is on our CD, as well as the song, “Ki Te La,” the first half of which we know in class as “Fiafia.”
Wikipedia on Te Vaka | Te Vaka’s website | Meet the band | About Te Vaka’s “South Pacific Fusion”, including an album by album description | Te Vaka’s drum-tastic live version of “Mata O Tane” (some great dancing starts at 2:40) | Still live, but a little closer: “Pate Pate” | A live concert review: “The Power of Te Vaka”: Although the group’s name translates as ‘the canoe’ they could be renamed Te Viagra for the sensual undercurrents running through the dancing and musical rhythms.” (that’s seriously what it says.)