Contemporary Melanesian song No. 3

Stringband song from Wendehsi near the Bird’s Head Peninsula of West Papua‘s north coast. [Source: YouTube]

This clip begins with a scenic tour – the stringband only comes into view at the 0:56 mark. It reveals something of the spirit of the Melanesian stringband in its early years around the 1950s: the participatory performance of a song featuring overlapping improvised vocal harmonies with three chord accompaniment by multiple guitars, ukulele, and some sort of bass instrument. The instrument here is a homemade two string bass, and the bass line is a kind of boogie-woogie/walking bass, which seems to drive the performance.

Listen for the rapid ukulele strumming from around the 1:26 mark and soon after, and the suspenseful build-up to the cadence point around the 1:45 mark: excitingly, the ukulele continues playing through the stop, while a guitarist drums on the face of his instrument!

It is fascinating how far across the Pacific from east to west the ukulele and string band model travelled.

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