Vanuatu

[All information in this Sound Recordings Library has been collected and written by Michael Webb © 2014]

This hymn of the Salvesen genre is a transformed version of the Jubilee song or spiritual, ‘Room Enough’, originally published in Jubilee Songs by Biglow & Main in 1872, and sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, of Fisk University, Tennessee.

While the original song is in binary or AB form beginning with the Refrain section, the Salvesen hymn, in ABA form, follows three successive and contrasting rhythmic formulations [T] determined by the accompanying circular dance: i) walking rhythm (rubato—notice the drumming pattern) [Refrain] ii) marching rhythm [Verse] ii) stomping rhythm [Refrain] (shaded on the Salvesen text next to the score). The basic three part harmony features some improvisation [T]. The performances concludes with the customary responsorial ‘Hip hip: hooray!’ cheer [T].

Compare the salvesen recording of ‘O Brothers, Don’t Stay Away” with the original ‘Room Enough’ score (the 1939 recording by a cappella Gospel group, The Bronzemen, available online, is a handy reference). Compare the score and the Salvesen text, and note the text loss in the Salvesen version, possibly due to oral transmission (the version by The Bronzemen doesn’t employ the entire 1872 text either).

Recorded on Sunday 21st March 2010 in Leggatt Memorial Church, Pelongk village, Maskelyne Islands, Vanuatu, by Michael Webb on a Sony PCM-D50.

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Accompanied by vigorous rhythmic drumming by four or five men on a propped up length of cracked bamboo, this dance is known as lelawo. The bamboo drumming can also serve as a kind of prelude to the dance, for example, to accompany people as they move into the nakamal (traditional village meeting house) where the dance ceremony begins. Great energy is invested in the performance right from the opening responsorial cheers, and the solo dancer is urged on with rhythmic whoops and calls that heighten the mood.

Solo dancers take turns on top of bialu, the cut off buttress root of the nakatambol tree, which is placed over a hole, while the rest of the group dance in a circle around the dancing board and bamboo percussion instrument. The term bialu describes the complete construction and perhaps even the actual dance.

The bialu can’t be danced upon without the playing of the bamboo. The combination of the bamboo beating and the dancing/stomping on ‘rus’ (Bislama, roots) or bialu is called we-lelawo. Today, as seen in the film, a large piece of plywood serves as a substitute for the bialu.

The song texts are obscure and untranslatable, perhaps in a language from outside the area or “from the bush.”

Description based on information supplied by Luwi Maki.

Recorded outdoors on Monday 19 November 2012, at Nuvi village, Epi Island, Vanuatu, by Michael Webb on a Sony PCM-D50.

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‘Rojuial yuka vou’ [We’re moving into a new year’] is a song of the bonani genre recorded on Epi Island, Vanuatu. It is derived from the Jubilee song or spiritual, ‘A happy new year,’ from the repertoire of the Fisk Jubilee Singers of Tennessee, who were famous across the world from the early 1870s. It is somewhat different from the original in melodic and harmonic detail. Listen while comparing it with the score. It begins in Baki, the language of the Burumba  people: “Rojuial yuka vou” etc, then switches to Bislama, “Namba wan Janwari, namba wan Janwari, Namba wan dei, namba wan dei, namba wan Janwari” etc, then to English, “It’s a new year happy day, happy day, happy day, It’s a new year happy day, happy day for all” and so on.

Notice how, compared with the original song in triple metre, the bonani version constantly shifts metrically, from pulse groups of three to four to two and so on. This occurs partly as a result of the language switching: full syllabic emphasis in some cases seems to override strict musical pulse grouping. Also, the performers gradually speed up since the song accompanies (and is accompanied by) a circular dance, which accelerates. The acceleration generates excitement and is accompanied by whistles and cheers and so on. Towards the end emphasis is placed on the word ‘day.’ The performance concludes with the characteristic round of three responsorial cheers. [Watch the clip in the video library]

Recorded outdoors on Thursday 22 November 2012, in Burumba village, Epi Island, Vanuatu, by Michael Webb on a Sony PCM-D50.

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‘The Misialu Stringband’ [details of song unknown].

The Misilau Stringband takes its name from three rocks in the water just off Pelongk beach where, according to legend, several enemies were slaughtered. The band is a kind of club whose main members are unmarried men. It’s motto, “Moving on—we try harder” is painted on the side of the box bass. The string band members are: Gorden Steven, Speri Dick (tena [tenor]), Samu Dick (alto), Kamsel Wakon (lead singer), Kalkoa Wakon, Moses Fred, Setkaia Nombong (seka [shaker or tambourine]), Erick, Simeon (bongo [string bass]), Dangly Frut (niwkalili [ukulele]).

Listen at the start for the rhythmic tension that is set up between the syncopated strum of the ukulele ukulele and the on-beat acoustic rhythm guitars (the lower, ‘wound’ strings have been removed). A trademark of the Shefa or central Islands string band sound, this rhythmic feel is ultimately derived from 1940s swing music that inundated Vanuatu during the Pacific War of the early 1940s. The drive and sound of the “tea chest” tension string bass also conveys this sense of swing. ‘Pacific’ musical elements include the bright sound and rhythmic bounce of the ukulele throughout, and the use of the major 6th chord, derived from the sound of the open 6th tuning used by ‘Hawaiian’ guitarists.

The distinctive ‘high jubilant sound’ is attributable to the intense ‘Melanesian’ choral vocals, rich in upper harmonics. Sung phrases are short, syncopated, and tend to receive an additional ‘push’ at the end. A falsetto part is prominent in the vocal mix.

From the film it can be seen that the singer-instrumentalists bob and bounce with considerable energy as they play—they is a great sense of propulsion in the performance. The result seems to blend seriousness of intent with delight in working in a circle as a small group.

Recorded in the public mess hall behind the Kole Risi Stage on Thursday 15 November 2012, in Pelongk village, Maskelyne Island, Vanuatu, by Michael Webb on a Sony PCM-D50.

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‘Asngan biyamarul’

A group of girls sits in a circle playing a game involving the rotation of half coconut shells in time as they sing this song. One or two men watching on with interest join the singers on the verses. All the while, a group of boys and girls race around in a larger circle outside the seated circle of singers and players.

Wiote (hoi!) Wio (hoi!)

CHORUS
Lea lelawo lae la weli lawo
Lea lelawo lae la weli lawo
Lea lea lea lea lea lelawo
Lae la weli lawo [X 2]

Wiote (hoi!) Wio (hoi!)

VERSE 1
Letam poripore live na te wa ravie
Letam poripore live na te wa ravie
Tekileya ko ravie, letam poripore live na te wa ravie [X 2]

[“Sister, what are we going to do back to the deep dark bush?” (implied: “Why would we go back to living like we did before when our ancestors came from the middle of the island in the jungle in the time before Christianity?”)]

Wiote (hoi!) Wio (hoi!)

CHORUS

Wiote (hoi!) Wio (hoi!)

VERSE 2

Letam poripore lipe la ame mise
Letam poripore lipe la ame mise
Itanga teme mise le tam poripore lipe la ame mise [X2]

[“Those people who killed the missionary…
Well, it was us who killed the missionary!”]

Wiote (hoi!) Wio (hoi!)

The chorus consists either of vocables or “ancient language”, while the verses relate to the death of the Scots-New Zealander Presbyterian missionary the Rev. Thomas Smaill (1857-1902). According to mission accounts Smaill died on Epi from the effects of a malarial fever, however the Nikaura people claim to have ensorcelled him because he violated a cultural taboo while medically attending to a woman who had been injured (see Young 1997:111-113).

Text and translation supplied by Luwi Maki and Ross Webb.

Recorded on 19th November 2012, on the grounds of Nikaura Primary School, by Hideki Isoda on a Sony PMW-EX1R XDCAM.