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The writers of our songs are the true national leaders

GANJIKI D WAYNE | Supported by the Bea Amaya Writing Fellowship

PNG Graphic (The Future Sound of London)“Let me write the songs of a nation: I don’t care who writes the laws” - Andrew Fletcher, Scottish politician

WHEN HE FIRST TOOK OFFICE I used to hear news about Governor Powes Parkop’s vision to clean the city and the people’s mindsets by the year 2012.

With that year coming to an end now, how have we fared? Have we changed?

Parkop posed the question to a workshop of certain middle level bureaucrats, “How do we get people to change their mindsets and attitudes?” Indeed: “How?”

Mindsets and attitudes cannot be legislated or regulated into being. They exist free of the external things we set up to control society.

Conscience is the freest component of a human person. Inserted and guaranteed by God Himself. I could even say that the freedom of conscience is a freedom more precious than liberty itself.

Throughout history and even today people have sacrificed their physical freedom and even their lives to keep their consciences free. And the most powerful of people have been those who have been able to permeate people’s conscience.

Leadership, I heard from Myles Munroe, is the ability to influence human behaviour. Human behaviour is a product of the human conscience. Leadership is therefore the ability to influence the human conscience to such an extent as it affects human behaviour.

All these matters considered, I have concluded who the real leaders of this nation are.

They are not the prime ministers, the members of parliament or the nation’s top bureaucrats. They are not the ones who possess power or control over vast amounts of money or land or people. They are not those who have many wives and massive wealth; or who drive successful businesses and expensive vehicles.

For me, the true leaders are smaller people. They probably live with relatives because they can’t afford rentals. Maybe they make their homes in settlements. They possibly have small blue-collar jobs that they struggle through every day.

But they are famous people. Known and loved by many who share the same everyday experiences they do. They are the local songwriters, singers, poets, writers and the storytellers. But I’ll focus on the songwriters and singers because that segment of the arts has more dominion in PNG than the storytelling, books and poetry.

The majority in this nation listens to music and song every day. And songs have the ability to stick and continually play in the minds of people.

The words, aided by music, can seep easily into our subconscious, shaping the mindset without us even knowing it.

When we constantly listen to the same thing we usually end up believing it—without even making a conscious decision to start believing. Sooner or later we start living out the kind of beliefs transmitted by the songs. Our behaviour is affected.

Human behaviour is shaped by what we constantly hear, see and read—by what is constantly communicated to us. Politicians can deliver speeches once in a while but their words do not dwell in our minds and hearts as much as songs and music.

Hence politicians, despite having the authority to make laws and the macro-decisions for the country, do not have much influence on the people’s behaviour. That privilege (or responsibility) lies with our song-writers and singers.

The problem, however, is that many popular local songs are full of negative themes such as self-pity and regret, low self-esteem, loss of hope (“I give up”) etc. They are uninspiring and narrow-minded. They stimulate fleeting desires that can never be satisfied.

Such songs that carry words such as “mi pipia blong pipia blong pipia”, “maski mi rabis man mi simel tinpis”. Or “save-kad nogat save”, “skul-pepa blong yu skul-pepa nating”, or “wai na mama karim mi?” or “mi bai stap na raun wabo”.

They limit our ability to dream and aspire for great things or greatness. They remove our ability to look beyond our current limitations—beyond the immediate.

One song that has been very influential (to my utter disgust) is Skwatas hit Take Me to Paradise. This song opens with the phrase “Wik i kam pinis em wikend nau taim bilong kisim wara wantaim ol poroman”.

Those words, and the phrase “I’m living for the weekend”, reinforce within young people that life has no ultimate meaning or everlasting joy, but if we compound our pleasures every weekend—by taking alcohol, dancing away and picking up a one-night stand—we may salvage some happiness.

This is a dangerous message. Yet this song is (was) a hit with very young children who had yet to cement a proper outlook of life.

Then there’s Tania’s Trupla Man. I once watched a TV program showcasing Tania promoting that song to hundreds of kids mostly below the age of 13.

Some kids (possibly aged between 7 and 10) were called to the stage and sang the chorus brilliantly: “Trupla man, wokobaut long bikpla nait. Painim mi. Em orait. Mi save long ting ting blong yu!...” (“A real man walks in the dead of the night looking for me. That’s fine. I know what you’re thinking”)

One phrase goes “Mi tu mi man na mi gat bulut na mi nidim presens blong yu...” (“I’m human too. I got feelings (hormones) and I need you”).

I thought to myself, “What the heck!” These kids are singing along without a clue as to what Tania’s intent was (I doubt Tania herself knew).

But very early a mentality is being embedded into their subconscious. It is, if your body desires something, get out there and do what it takes to satisfy your body. And if you do so you are a “trupla man” (real man)!

Such songs are dangerous to our society. They summon up energies and curiosities within children and young people before they have built strong foundations from which they can properly direct such energy.

They lack a message of hope, peace, unity and other positive themes that could energise Papua New Guineans to do the right thing.

Yes we do have some of those more uplifting songs ringing through the air, but they’re significantly outnumbered by the negative.

Songs with such words are not just harmless music and entertainment. They shape human thought. They shape the conscience. They shape culture.

If there are songwriters out there reading this, you have more power than you know. Use it well.

As for politicians, if you’d like to regain some of your lost power from the singers and songwriters, I recommend you ban the so many negatively-charged songs that infiltrate almost every young heart every single day in Papua New Guinea.

If we are to have a positive society with a positive culture we have to change the things that shape the minds that shape the behaviour of the people that shape our society.

Comments

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Michael Dom

Song lyrics are, for the greater part, geared towards entertainment.

They reflect a certain frame of mind that the singer feels and wants to relate to the audience.

Poetry, the less appreciated root of song lyrics, is more fundamental - poetry searches, poetry questions, poetry plumbs the depths of who we are and what we believe. Problem is most people just don't have the time.

You could say that we'd rather be brain-washed through song than asked than meditate on poetry.

Ganjiki D Wayne

Thanks, Nicko. I always dreamed about organising an artist's workshop.

Indeed a worthy idea to pursue.

Nick Piakal

Hear, hear! You just hit the nail on the head, Ganjiki. This is something I have been bemoaning for a long while now and you articulated it brilliantly for me there. I totally agree with you.

However, your recommendation of banning a song may run against the grain of our stance on free speech and freedom of expression.

Plus the act of banning almost always increases a creative work's marketability. Something like reverse psychology, if you may.

The more viable option perhaps, would be to get this message – what you just wrote above – to all our people, and especially our songwriters, producers and recording studios so they can take some affirmative action on this matter.

For example, we could have these artists invited to a workshop and through face-to-face and small group sessions, get them to this side of the picture.

Make them realise the power they yield with their words in song, and how they can use it to better benefit the community, and in turn contribute to building a better society in Papua New Guinea.

This could also provide an avenue for artists to share ideas with each other and with industry professionals on refining their music to break out of the shallow drivel of 1-beat mould.

I'm sure people like Allen 'AK47' Kedea and even PNG music giants like Telek (here's me hoping) would be keen to participate in such a productive exercise as well. This collaborative act would blow any other collaborations out of the water. :)

While on affirmative action, there's a National Symposium on Arts and Culture coming up next week, and I recall seeing some names from the music fraternity like Pati Doi and Oala Moi in the programme lineup.

Guys, this agenda could surely do with some breathing room on the podium.

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