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BE MY GUEST: THE STRING BAND CALLS – Pjeb Saoia

Since 1974, and for a long time, the National Broadcasting Corporation of Papua New Guinea was the only electronic media in Papua New Guinea and was providing news, information and entertainment. Entertainments were mostly in a form of music, radio plays and stories. I could remember when I was a child listening to the Milne Bay Radio station playing some string band music that went, “even after I die, my voice will linger forever on radio Milne bay”

Similarly, in that same period, Raymond Chin, founder of the now CHM Super Sounds introduced the first international radio program in Papua New Guinea, in fact making a start with the import of Indonesian hit band the Black Brothers who caught PNG by storm. It went on to recording the first PNG musical releases by bands such as Helgas, Sanguma and many more. All these release are a further step from the untapped talent originating from string band groups that has been around for a decade before that and of course been much utilized by the then Australian Broadcasting Commission.

One can easily notice that the world as seeing in the eye of a remote artist has more than changed since the 1970s.Here music has started to evolve, thanks to some visionary natural citizens who had the passion for music and knowing the culture surrounding this commodity of an artist. Looking through the eyes of a youth and the need to entertain the time, here there is a change and only for the better.

Going down south the Papuan Coast to the Louisuade Archipelago group of islands at around the same period, string band music met up at the cross roads with cultural beliefs inscribed into animalistic beliefs and plant power. In fact smoothly un sitting the traditional singsing ceremonies and festivity pride were everyone observes the toughness of men and boys taking on the cultural challenge of perfection by interpreting and implementing the non-written procedure of tradition. Here, in all gatherings, opposite genders gather to identify the outstanding of all among them. And the captivity in heart and mind they have to offer to the whole clansmen.

Here, groups of young men are struck together by the charming beauty of a girl they may call in Misima dialect “panayawi yovana” meaning a lady from a far, they have seeing from the last trading voyage and can’t leave without thinking of her. One of them is so affected badly that he puts together a few lyrics and the rest get together and forms the tune. Throw in the ukulele and old stringed kapok and there is a lovely melody along the beaches at moonlight filled night. Local girls gather at a corner nearby by the bushes and giggle away by the vocal melody of the lead singer. Who knows what the beauties are saying or doing. Mirror mirror on the wall? Not if I am to imagine because the next girl is just as captivated as well and would not answer any questions at the moment but listen with an open popping heart.

Let me not go further beforehand. In fact I am already getting captivated again as I continue to think on. I have been to hotels in Port Moresby, not that I pay for them but to visit friends and relatives passing through, and every time I am there, I notice one common thing that string band and the customer service staff at the hotel share. I do not expect people to believe along the same line that I am but the picture is of course realistic. Just ask the old fella Uncle Donald, and he will make you his guest because what made him proud is just what you asking him to tell you.

So Uncle Donald, how did you have so many jokes and stories that fascinate the young boys every time you tell them? Haha…eh ankol, we had clubs everywhere then. We used to play music there. Uncle Patrick, Uncle Aisi, all these guys, we play there. In fact we had other competitors as well coming here. The BB Brothers, Siagara boys. The ladies like it and we always entertain them. They always come only by the call of Uncle Patrick’s fast lead fingers from start to end and Hohoi’s brilliant engineering of song lyrics and tunes, the ladies are our guest. That’s it, that’s it. Be my guest, because the string band called you!

At the time I conceived the thought to write something about how this media of string band touched everyone on Misima Island and the nearby Louisuade Archipelago islands, I kept on questioning the idea on the basis that what I will be writing does not take its place any longer in a guy as young as me. I look around and see the guy next to me, who is wearing a Sudest bagi with a Misima basket woven from mat by a woman from Eiaus, with an ear piece stuck into his ears nodding so wildly at what is a beat by a rap devil Eminem. Miming words perfectly and suddenly turns to me and explains just what the song lyrics are all about. Man, did you just asked Eminem for an explanation of the song? Let alone he’s own definition. The scenario makes me feel out of place but yet the burning love within me for this genre of music is so extreme that it becomes a friend talking to me in my granny’s voice when I’m alone. The sound, so peaceful yet touching but dying out rapidly. Did I just say something?

Yes I did. Dying out it is. But not when it started to grow back then. It was 1970 going the 80s way and at the peak of independence preparation. The place was so young, not that existence was just at its infant stage for this part of the world but the transformation from the kundu drum and traditional charming to string musical instruments. The one that bends the knees winks the eye and breaks a smile in a lime light campfire fed with logs that were carried into the village by “tovelams” tambus in Misima dialect with powerful magnitude as powerful as the strength derived from the sago belting charm.

The wave of this string band music did not just hit Misima, but the whole of Milne Bay and Papua New Guinea. I have listened to hit songs Waupu Obadal from the Komwa Komwa String band of the Trobriand Islands, the climate song by the Ponai string band of Manus, Maienduo Nava of the Hornert Straing band of Popondetta, Eliam Sori loi of Yaliyaya string band of Ware, and of course Guwawana strangers, BB Brothers, Cyclonic and Melu Balas. I get the same feeling all along because I’m the type of course. It is in fact not the different feeling of emotional and heart appeal felt from this musical genre from before, especially for one who looks out that same window with the feeling. Everyone was caught in awe and kept captivated by the type of music played, the people and the raw talent. That, coupled with the harmony of vocals taking on different tunes makes it just perfectly blue for the time.

Just a little moment spent along the lines of string band gives a feel of togetherness, a feel of calmness that has been felt before. Because of its obsolete value in the catchy path that should create a following among the populace today does not mean it has gone forever. People still keep them as their most important and hidden collection that is worth keeping. Of course it may be played at times that is really needed will cause waves that will definite speak to the heart.