Friday 28 October 2016

"A Bit Na Ta" George Telek, David Bridie & The Musicians of Gunantuna

"A BIT NA TA (The source of the sea)" is a stunning new project developed through the Wantok Musik Foundation as part of a Queensland GOMA Exhibition of the Modern Art of PNG  - "No1 Neighbour" (on until early 2017)

Visitors to the installation in Brisbane are immersed in a 30-minute sequence of songs and atmospheric sounds accompanied by five video projections. It is a Tolai response to change in East New Britain Province between 1875 and 1975 and captures key events that have shaped that century around Rabaul from the perspective of the local peoples. The songs tell of how the area’s history intersects with major world events including two devastating World Wars, the processes of colonisation and political self-determination, with cataclysmic volcanic eruptions along the way.

Tolai musician George Telek and his Australian collaborator of thirty years David Bridie have reconnected with the energy and excitement of Not Drowning,Waving & Telek's groundbreaking 1990 release "Tabaran". Their expansive Papuan soundscapes conjure up images of rainforest meeting sea, of waters lapping in mangroves with broody volcanoes looming in the near distance. It's probably the sweetness of the ukelele, but the whole project seems infused with the scent of frangipani and coconuts.

As Bridie observes in an interview for the Exhibition: "Music is everywhere; men sing on the road side, women sing working their gardens, kids sing on the beach. . . music underpins ceremony . . . every village has a string band . . . birds, frog and insect sounds are symphonic at night". The ambient sounds give way to the log drums and chants of a singsing - all bark shields, dancing crowds, spears a-waving, bodies adorned with feather head-dresses and crazy birdlike masks and costumes.

Then there's the Missionary-inspired stringband-accompanied harmonies. Several new uplifting choral songs from Anslom, Moab, Amidal & Gilnata Stringbands were recorded in makeshift island studios by Bridie and Co over a six week period. My favourite is "Jack Emanuel", which tells the story of how in 1971, Australia's District Commissioner was murdered at Kabaira Bay by the Baining over a land dispute. PNG was shocked into grief and disbelief and 10000 people attended Emanuel’s funeral.  

In addition, the Matupit John Wesley Lotu choir and a group of Tolai elders contribute a range of customary songs which fully situate the project within a Tolai cultural and historical context. Two beautiful old women, Bung Marum and Revie Kinkin sing an ‘Apinpidik’ which takes us back to the 1960s and says “nau meri i laik sanap wantaim ol man” (Its time for women to stand up and be equal to men)

All of this is interspersed beautifully with that growling, prowling, ominous fed back John Phillips / NDW electric guitar which heightens and changes the dramatic effect so well. If this CD is anything to go by, the "No1 Neighbour" exhibition will be well worth a trip to Brisbane just to immerse oneself in this sense of "plis" of Blanche Bay, Rabaul.