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Wahgi Hellcats: a rock band ‘born before its time’

KELA KAPKORA SIL BOLKIN | Supported by the Phil Fitzpatrick Writing Fellowship

Pat SiwiTHE WAHGI HELLCATS was a famous rock band in the Papua New Guinea music industry well before the Australian flag was lowered in 1975.

The band was humbly born in the Minj area of the Jiwaka Province in December 1973. The founder was a self-taught musician who started with a ukulele in 1963.

Pat Siwi (pictured) was only 18 years old when he started the band and since then he has become a household name.

He is now among PNG’s top music icons, just like the late John Wong, George Telek and Henry Peni.  His Wahgi Hellcats also sits comfortably among other top bands like Barike, Painim Wok, April Sun and Sirosis.

In the 1960s, young Pat had a very close friend, David Peri, who was a half caste Simbu-Sepik.

Pat and David attended Minj primary school and soon realized they both liked music. At the same time, they found one of Pat Siwi’s cousins, Siwi Muruk, who was also half caste Simbu-Sepik and who also liked music.

Pat, David and Siwi officially came together and formed a band in December 1973.  They named it the Wahgi Hellcats.

In those nostalgic days Pat was the main vocalist and played guitar. David was the harmonist and played bass guitar. Siwi had the drums perfectly under control.

They started playing around clubs using borrowed instruments. Most of the equipment was borrowed from the University of Technology where Pat was an architecture student from 1971 to 1973.

Since the birth of the Wahgi Hellcats many other musicians have come and gone, but the band has satisfied the test of time.

Siwi Muruk was a bit of a humbug and Pat had to keep an eye on him all the time. Fortunately, Pat was a natural leader and he kept the group together and the legacy they left in the highlands and the PNG music industry stands head to head with other consistent performers like Barike, Painim Wok, April Sun and Sirosis.

Pat Siwi’s leadership abilities were not a fluke. He is from the Enduga tribe of the Simbu Province and his mother is from Enga. Pat’s mother is from the first sister; Peter Ipatas, the proactive and popular veteran Enga Governor, is from the second sister. And Daniel Kapi, a former MP, is from the third sister.

“I thought I was born before my time. There was no music industry in PNG when I started,” said Pat.

 

I probed him about the song New York City and he said Tony Cristi, an American friend, gave him the lyrics. “Cristi and I composed the song only to test our market value abroad,” said Pat.

Years later, the younger generation spread a rumour that the Wahgi Hellcats band was heading to New York and had composed the song on the way. “I’ve never been to the US so it is a lie,” he said.

Pat did his last live performance in 1988 and then settled down to build a recording studio. In 1991 he launched the Kumul studio in Goroka and started recording a few of the individual musicians and bands throughout the country.

Then around 1999, with DJs, DVDs, CD burners and discos proliferating, he knew the studio was not going to make money. The devaluation of the kina also reduced his profit margin so he closed Kumul studio. His competitor, Pacific Gold Studio, shut its doors at about the same time for the same reason.

“Anyhow, I am still doing music to raise money, especially for charity. I flew down from Goroka to play at the Crown Plaza to raise funds for Team Simbu to travel to East New Britain for the PNG Games,” Pat said when I met him outside the Papuan Rugby league club house that evening as he was on his way to the Crown Plaza to do a live performance.

The tickets were sold for K500 per person and that night alone they raised more than K114,000 for Team Simbu.

December 2013 will mark the 40th anniversary of the Wahgi Hellcats band and Pat Siwi and its members are planning to release an anniversary album. All the songs will be in English.  They will also travel to the major cities in PNG for live grand performances.

Pat Siwi has a different view of Chin H Min’s current promotion of PNG musicians through the EMTV Mekim Music shows. He prefers more live performances from PNG musicians. According to Pat live performances are real music. What we see on EMTV is ‘lip sinc’ - miming.

“For all musicians, their real worth and expertise is tested during live performances. At the moment they look great on TV but unfortunately they don’t give the fans the same taste and feel that you get with the manoeuvres during a live performance.

“Furthermore, the musicians at the end of the TV shows go back to the ghettos and live in rags. It is a fraud.” Pat is adamant that PNG musicians should step up and make more money from live performances.

Pat Siwi is not confident about the future of the PNG music industry and has called for government intervention by way of legislation and policies. He thinks the Institute of PNG Studies should expand beyond recording traditional songs to also house and coordinate the contemporary PNG music industry.

“In that way, the music industry can also have technical management capacity to formulate policies to contain the threat of music piracy and blue toothing.

“Then again, even if we make laws, who will enforce them?” he asks. “The answer to this could put off potential young musicians who wish to ply their trade. It is a wedge that has splintered the PNG music industry into shambles and chaos.”

Pat agrees with Markham Galut, Ratoos Gary, Tony Subam and Pius Wasi - who are also top Papua New Guinean musicians, dancers, actors and comedians - that PNG artists need to produce music using more traditional sounds to break into the international market.

The contemporary PNG artists according to these veterans are all ‘copycats’ and using too much rap.

Pat Siwi laments that he has met a top PNG musician lately who moaned that he could not make money like he used to before due to piracy and blue toothing. Should musicians who want to make money have to move out of PNG and increase live performances, he wonders.

In the meantime, the fans of Wahgi Hellcats band should start saving their money to purchase the 40th anniversary album come December 2013. Surely there will be live performances too.

I feel that Pat is absolutely overdue for a knighthood from the Queen of England or a Logohu award from the fat cats.

PNG has a tradition of awarding the Queen’s honours and Logohu awards to club boys and pedestal leaders.

Pat is truly a servant leader who has contributed immensely to music over almost four decades. Hence, it is only fitting for Pat Siwi to be honoured by Misis Queen, just like George Telek. 

Comments

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Tony Siab

Progressive work been going on - Hon Wera Mori has committed K50,000 for the album which will be released soon. Also any one out there who are holding on to the Pacific gold album, please email me or text me on 7154 7527. I would like a copy

Ben Hakalitz, Buruku Tau and Pat are now brainstorming. We will keep our fans posted on the development.

Your support is greatly need and you can contact me on email tgsiab7@gmail.com

Daniel Kumbon

Somebody recently suggested on Facebook that Pat Siwi make one last live tour of the country and give his fans the music they've been enjoying all these years. I supported this idea and asked Pat to consider. I hope he read all the comments.

Vitus Koian

I remember the Waghi Hell Cats in the 70s and 80s because my father and other public servants at the small government station of Saidor would play the music on the radio cassette player whenever they got together - or people just played the songs in their homes.

I specifically remember a young policeman who had bought about 10 cartons of cassettes of all kinds of PNG and foreign music but his favourite was always the Waghi Hell Cats, April Sun, Black Brothers, Barike and many more.

He would be playing these as we passed by the police single quarters accommodation we would stop to listen to the songs coming out of his room.

Being in Madang NBC Radio was really very good and you'd get to hear the Waghi Hell Cats' songs everywhere and we really loved the music. Of course there were other bands during that time also belting out good music and I also thank NBC for airing them.

Reama Kandiki

I attended Kindeng Primary School in Anglimp South Wahgi, Jiwaka Province and the Wahgi Hellcats were a real household name in the music industry in the 1980s.

All his songs were my favorites and I pretended to sing his songs in school. I sometimes saw him performing live in Mount Hagen. During Coca Cola promotions I saw him performing live at Mount Hagen Show.

George, yes they call him brother, a top musician.

I have been looking for copy of his albums ever since. Never found one. Someone help me please.

He surely needs to be knighted. Can someone in authority look into this please.

Anton P Sekum (Serkum)

I maybe late in commenting here but it is better late than never. I grew up in Mt Hagen from the mid 1970s and eventually left in 1999.

During that time,Pat Siwi and the Wahgi Hellcats are every house favourites. Pat is our idol. He inspired many of us into music.

When he started the Kumul Studios our band was the first in terms of group recording but second to Baundo Kumuno (solo artist) that Pat and George Siwi recorded.

Our band was Junior Sago Thorns and our album was recorded in 1990 and released in 1991. Due to many circumstances our second album was never completed.

Pat and George are not only musicians but icons and an inspiration to many of us. God bless dearly.

Having said that, I'd like to get in touch with them to obtain tracks from our first album and the second incomplete album. Can I be assisted here please.

Thank you and God Bless.

M: 72247140
E: sekum2012@gmail.com

Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

Mr Siab, good to hear this project is happening. We are looking forward to the final product that will be out soon. Cheers.

Tony Siab

My name is Tony Siab and I managed the Pat Siwi Tribute show in Port Moresby's Crown Plaza which was very successful.

Now we working on his album for the generation to come to look back on what we have achieved in the music industry in Papua New Guinea

We are currently working with Buruka Tau, George Siwi and Pat Siwi on this album which will be released and mastered in Cairns soon.

I can be contacted through email: tgsiab7@gmail.com
_________

Hi Tony - You're doing a fine job for PNG music. Well done. Keep in touch and let our readers know more about what you're doing including the release of the album - KJ

Jeffrey Yandeken

I attended one of his live concerts in 1989 at a very remote place in Enga. I still value his talents - it was the best of all times!

Philip Kai Morre

I feel pride in being an Endugla man where Pat Siwi and Siwi Muruk come from. I have known Pat as a moral character and an advocate of contemporary music and art. He is a role model for music fans in this changing world.

Timon Wena | Mt Wilhelm

Pat Siwi was the reason why I took my first guitar lesson.

I agree with Pat that live performances are good for our musicians. They not only showcase the artistic gift our musicians possess but add value to whatever a musician does (behind the scenes) in the recording studio.

Pat has achieved all that and went into retirement a legend in PNG music and his story will live on for generations. We love you Pat. You were our inspiration.

Tom Soles

Pat Siwi and his famous Wahgı Hell Cats wıll go down the memory lane as one of the greatest ever band to come out the great Wahgı Dıvıde and the Hıghlands.

They rank alongsıde the famous Sanguma band as another PNG band to successfully tour the Unıted States ın the 1980s.

Growıng up ın the early 1980s ın Kavıeng, I lıstened to bands lıke Aprıl Sun, Paınım Wok, Yellow Top, Barıke amongts others but used to wonder about the song the song 'Aıyo Manayo' as ıt struck a chord ın my young heart as a Hıghlander.

As fate would dıctate I caught up wıth Pat from 2007 to 2012 as we became assocıated wıth the runnıng of the famous Goroka Show.

Hıs Kumul Studıos were contracted to do the amphıtheatre for the Goroka Show whıch he always delıvered successfully. And he hadn't lost hıs voıce eıther when he was requested to blast some numbers from the Wahgı Hell Cats at the 2010 Goroka Show Ball. You a legend Pat!

Peter  Mondo

Pat Siwi was the best in the 1970s and beyond. I was his fan then and still enjoy the Wahgi Hellcats hits. It's a pity I don't know where to get all the songs Wahgi Hellcats released.

Tony Siab

Go to the FaceBook page of the Wahgi Hellcats managed by executive director of the Hellcats projects.

Mr Tony Siab would like to thank Keith and Sil for the detailed story.

Pat is working on an album currently.

Parr Kelly Kapun

Am searching for some of his songs in the internet,please some one help me with the titles of his songs..thank you..

Peter Kranz

How not to carry a double bass onto the tube. It was late, and I was trying to catch the last tube home (Piccadilly line Circus to Cockfosters if you must know).

Now as you may know London tube trains have rather low doors. Anyhow I rushed up as the train was about to leave and in my hurry knocked the scroll top off my double bass! Luckily I managed to grab it before it hit the tracks and next day repaired it with Araldite.

So if anyone finds a Guarneri bass with Araldite holding the scroll together, it's mine!

Garry Roche

I often watched the Wahgi Hellcats play in Hagen many years ago. If I remember correctly one of the band was very young at that time. He was maybe ten or twelve years old but played like a veteran. while the whole band was good, we were greatly surprised at the skill of the youngest member, I do not know his name. Pat Siwi was also playing rugby League, - my memory fails me about which team he played for - Magani or Brothers?

J M Kaspar

Just for the record, Pat is not from Endugla Tribe. He is from the Kamanuku tribe, Enduglakane clan.

I love his music and have some of his good old song collections that I always keep in my PC and on CDs that I take around all the time.

I wish PNG had real talented musicians that can perform live with instruments rather than sitting behind a computer using software and rapping rubbish we can't even understand what they are mumbling.

They perform on camera as if they are a little rap gangs from the east or west coast.

Daniel Kumbon

His voice was as rich as ever when he performed 'New York City' at Grand Chief Sir Peter Ipatas KBE's knighthood party thrown by his son at Bluff Inn recently. I was so caried away, I forgot to drink my glass of wine.

Yes, its long overdue Siwi needs some sort of official recognition. The government forgets people involved in the arts - painters, singers, actors, dancers, standup comedians etc...

Lucas Turie, Banz, Jiwaka.

Pat was the reason I first took up the guitar. Waghi Hellcats were regular weekend fixture in Banz back in the day. I currently live & work in POM and my PC desktop is forever fixed with Waghi Hellcats music. I am also looking for cassettes (or CDs, if any) esp 1 with the Yellow cover with little black cats. I had it with other Pats music but they got snatched by other fans!

I have crossed paths with Pat so many times in Banz, Minj, Hagen, Simbu & Goroka over the years, secretly played his music with other bands.

Mathew Ding

Pat Ngal ka you are real legend and you a true favourite son of Minj because that band Waghi Hellcats is a Jiwaka fame name we all treasure today, Pat your legency will continue into the future. Laikim isteret yah na !!!
cheers!
Mathew Ding
Government House,
Konedobu, Port Moresby

Zuke Kot

Pat Siwi was and is still a favorite musician and singer. I have been looking for a copy of his cassette and was fortunate enough to buy one but sadly it was stolen by another Pat fan as I suspected. I am still after a copy of his cassette recording with a yellow cover having designs of cats. The Whagi Helcats was truly a PNG born Rock Band that deserves recognition today as well as the band leader Pat Siwi need recognition for his efforts in music in PNG.

Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

Mr Kin, call Pat Siwi on this number (70104226) and he will shed some light on where we can find his CD/cassettes.

Mr Kamasua, as far as I know, Pat Siwi has not been knighted yet. Simbu, Eastern Highlands and Engans MPs should unite for Pat to be knighted.

John Kaupa Kamasua

I am curious to know if Pat Siwi received any awards from the Queen?

mathias kin

Bro, Joe Sil, How do we get hold of a CD/DVD of the mighty Wahgi Helcats? Cant find any in Kundiawa or Goroka.

Moses Kaigu

Sil - Great piece and well put together. Remember being with you when you interviewed the great legend of rock. Pat Siwi spoke using the great powers of the English language and eloquently. Very intelligent, simple but highly visionary. Wahgi Hellcats songs will never cease to entertain.

Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

Hi Eileen

The lyrics in Simbu (Wahgi Hellcats) are these:
Na kinde sungs botna mina pai molka
Na mana ukan kai eruma
Aiya mana yo (x3)
na kinde sume re do

Eileen Nganga

Can someone send me the lyrics of Na Kinde Sunga?

Bakri Dumu

Wahgi Hellcats came and played live in Kompiam in 1980 or 81 when I was just a kid attending primary school. I vividly remember their songs. Lead guitarist rocks!

Ernie Ewako

Awesome legends, I loved all their songs.. Deserve the highest honour.

laimo

Similarly, I enjoyed listening to the Hellcats in my primary school days. What a name in itself though, the "Hellcats" and they did rock New York.

They were indeed ahead of their time. It is a shame we havent recognised contributions from musicians like Pat Siwi formal manner.

As they say, they dont sing like that anymore. I love love to see some clips on youtube if anyone has it.

Francis Nii

Great article and very informative. My favourite was Sweet Sixteen.

I call Wahgi Hellcats' brand of music timeless music. After 40 years the taste and heartbeat still remains the same.

Furthermore, I agree that through life performances one can expose his or her natural talent and also make some immediate cash.

Dr Lucas Kondi

Agreed, a musical genius born before his time. I grew up listening to his music; it has been 30 years since the day I first heard his tapes.

He deserves a knighthood. A true rock legend just like Chuck Berry, CCR and all the rockers of his time inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Our rocker deserves a knighthood.

He is the real Living Legend of PNG Music, and he deserves an honour now.

Kaiam Mono

Thanks Sil for the great article. This band had once rocked New York city in 70s with its song 'New York City'. Really like the lyrics. He deserves honour.

Paul Warin

Thanks for this article, I am one of Pat's fan and I wish I had all his music albums.

He was the best singer & performer in my day and he was definitely my favorite singer with his band The Mighty Waghi Hellcats....

Marcus Mapen

Thank you for this great article. I was searching for the lyrics for the song 'New York City' and I came across your article by accident...but really enjoyed reading this. I'm now 48 years old and I just remembered myself as a 10 year old dancing on the dance floor like i was on the back of a buffalo in a rodeo every time Waghi Hellcat's 'New York City' was played.

Thank you so much Pat Siwi & The Waghi Hellcats. Your music was class above class. You guys deserve to be honored.

Michael.Wani

I truly support Pat's comment on PNG music.

Music promoters must stage more group talent competitions with more live performances so they can fit to any kind of music groups: solos and composing own materials etc, etc.

Moses Kaigu

A true legend, who in fact was born before his time.

I was with Sil Bolkin when the interview was conducted.

Pat spoke his mind and heart straight out, did not hold anything behind.

A gentleman, a rock star, a rugby league administrator, and a humble ambassador. Thank you Sir Pat.

Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

PNG unfortunately does not keep good records of all endeavours from cradle to firm foundation, and the PNG music industry is no different.

Hence Johnny Diwai and the Splinters are history to those who know them - lost in the lane of history and, for others, they never existed.

Phil Fitzpatrick

And what happened to 'Johnny Diwai and the Splinters'?

Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

I didn't get his permission but I know he wouldn't mind.

Pat Siwi's phone number is 70104226. Cheers!

Scott Waide

Can someone please give me a contact number for the legend?

Don Hook

Port Moresby used to rock in the 1960s to Carolus 'Charlie' Ketsimur and his Binatangs at St Joseph's Hall, Boroko.

At the time, Carolus was a journalist with the ABC's 9PA news service.

Today, he's involved with Radio New Dawn on Bougainville, and is a member of the Bougainville Assembly.
_________

Charlie was one of the founders of New Dawn FM although no longer associated with the station. He is now has the important role of Minister for Roads, Infrastructure and Aviation in the Autonomous Bougainville Government. Charlie hits up a bit of jazz when he has the opportunity - KJ

Fiona Hukula

Legendary stuff! Thanks for sharing.

Mathias Kin

Good one bro Sil. I was at the Crown that night and I met the good man there.

When he took the stage, his first song was none other than "Na Kinde Sunga", definitely an all time favourite.

The old feller belted it and everybody in ball room sang along. When he finnished, we gave him a standing ovation.

Yes I agree Pat deserves recgnition for his contribution to music....but alas the top government people will want something under the table, like the yellow bisnis fellers in town are doing.

I truly don't think Pat stands a chance, but surely I hope some good people, like Hon Wera Mori and Hon Kerenga Kua are the two people who come to mind, who can take this up in the higher circles. Cheers all.

Bernard Yegiora

Sil, I enjoyed reading this piece because it reminded me of my own origin.

The Peris, Muruks, Yegioras and Lombis have a historical connection.

Our forefather's were very brave Sepik men who ventured into the Highlands as part of the colonial administration.

In different ways these Sepiks contributed to the development of the province, regardless of the fact that they were foreigners.

As a third generation offspring, who is more quarter-caste then half-caste, I am proud of my forefathers and categorize them in the same category as Somare and other patriotic men in our history.

John Fowke

I agree with all you say. Pat is a genuine, likeable and talented musician who has stuck to his own vision and used his own resources to create relevant music and a scene he envisaged, rather than to make a fortune.

He has gone on doing his thing with both guts and a smile. He deserves our congratulations and all success as 2013 rolls on.

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