A lonely heart
Narapela kain man na meri – the pre-independence expatriates

My wonderful life’s journey with black music

Peter KranzPETER KRANZ

THERE'S a black man in our house!" I cried.

Mum came in to my bedroom to comfort me. "Don't worry he's a friend".

It was 1959. I was an Australian kid living in London and had never seen a black person before.

Uriel Porter was a beautiful man. Dad had given him lodgings, which were scarce for black men in 1950s London.

He was a Seventh Day Adventist, so Dad had offered him a room.

In the morning they awoke me with piano practice. So it was I got to know Gershwin and Porter, the religious classics and Negro spirituals. It was a great way to wake up.

Uriel was no ordinary person. He had the most wonderful bass voice I have ever heard. At the time, he was an understudy to Paul Robeson at the London performances of the musical Porgy and Bess (Robeson had been kicked out of Hollywood by the McCarthyist scourge).

Uriel sat me on his knee (I was around six at the time) and sang for me. I remember Deep River and Amazing Grace and It Ain't Necessarily So. To be honest, I was a bit scared of him.

The feeling stood me in good stead. Later, when I was in Papua New Guinea and visited a remote Simbu school and the kids looked frightened, I realised I was the first white man some of them had seen.

But the music. What a wonderful experience. Uriel and my Dad introduced me to the world of music, at the ripe old age of seven.

We had a Ferrograph tape recorder and a favourite Saturday afternoon ritual was to listen to recordings of Beethoven, Brahms, The Golden Gate Quartet and Louis Armstrong - all Dad's favourites.

In the 1970s Dad visited the South Pacific as part of his church work and returned home with some tapes.

Bougainville Bamboo Band (Canberra Multicultural Festival 2013)Amongst the Melanesian choirs and church singers I found snippets of what I now know to be the bamboo bands of Bougainville. I was captivated – the music was vibrant, exotic and brimming with energy. I promised I would find out more about this music if I ever got the chance.

And I did. I ended up working in PNG. And, in my first few weeks there, I was invited to dinner at the Holiday Inn.

On weekend evenings, there were performances by traditional dancers and musicians. It was there after 30 years I heard the music of the bamboo band again. (The mind's memory bank proving so retentive of incident and emotion.)

A bit later, Janos, a Bougainville friend and neighbour in Port Moresby, loaned me a CD of local music. I was hooked.

I started collecting recordings of PNG bands and musicians. And I recall sitting on the verandah at night listening to the local Catholic church choir practicing (the conductor lived across the road) and it was much more satisfying entertainment than anything Hitron cable TV could offer.

I was once invited to the launch of a new album by Sisirikiti when I was in the Solomons - I hope the group is still recording.

Above all I recall Mana singing traditional Simbu songs to me when Rose and I were about to leave Papua New Guinea to live in Australia.

Later the musician and friend of PNG David Bridie was kind enough to send me some of the original field recordings he had made in south Simbu.

So support Wantok Musik, go to concerts by your local bands, encourage new talent, listen to church choirs and be transformed.

Chris O'Dowd said "modern music is 90% crap, the rest is soul". PNG music has heaps of soul.

The Wantok Musik Foundation aims to generate and foster cultural exchanges between Australia and our neighbours throughout Oceania through its not-for-profit music label representing indigenous music groups.

 

Comments

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Peter Kranz

I think Martin has provided the inspiration. We need a PNG science fiction film script!

My suggestions -

Wigmen from Outer Space.

Simbu Warrioress from Goglme 5.

PNG Kung-Fu Starfield fighters.

Bougainville Priestesses from Eroticon 7

O'Neill of the Orgasmatron Liberation Front.

Star Trek 11 - the Revenge of the Yomba.

I've long been looking for a link between PNG music and science fiction (two favourite obsessions). The Father Gill sightings are a start, but I think Martin has the key. Here are some suggestions.

PNG warriors in outer space!

The Wigmen from beyond the stars

Salome the Simbu warrioress from beyond time

Bilas brothers from Bezek (that's a real star name)

Wanotooba Wantoks (that is too)

I lay down a challenge. Write the outline of a science fiction story starring PNG characters and traditions. We'll make it into a script, and Hollywood can't resist!

You know you can do it.

Peter Kranz

Martin - fascinating! I notice Solomon's music is represented, as is Aboriginal music from Australia and good old Louis Armstrong.

Here's a listing -

http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/spacecraft/music.html
And Martin - this is the plot of the first Star Trek movie (Star Trek - The Motion Picture) where an alien intelligence captures the V'Ger probe and thinks it is a God.

It has unfortunate consequences, but luckily the day is saved by Spock (vale Leonard Nimoy who passed away yesterday.)

An anecdote is that when Bach was first proposed, Carl Sagan said, "We don't want to show off."

Martin Hadlow

As an interesting aside, Peter, panpipe music is now in a place where no human being has previously gone.

You might recall that the Voyager 1 spacecraft, launched in 1977, carried on-board a 'gold disc' of music, images and sounds from planet Earth.

Amongst the music is a men's house song from Papua New Guinea and bamboo panpipes from Solomon Islands.

Voyager 1 is now travelling in interstellar space and is in a place where nothing from Earth has flown before. It continues to send back signals to scientists at NASA as it navigates the space between the stars.

The human mind boggles at the idea that, one day, a form of intelligence might interact with the spacecraft and discover bamboo bands and traditional music from the Pacific.

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