11 November 2008

Stone Age Island Pop: The Lani Singers

The Lani Singers - Ninalik Ndawi
Dancing Turtle Records

You might call it Stone Age island pop. The music of the Lain Singers -- Benny and Maria Wenda -- is rooted in cultural traditions of West Papua that have, the album's notes assert, changed little in thousands of years. Well, except for being colonized by the Dutch, invaded by the Indonesians, and generally having their rich resources being exploited by outsiders. The West Papua natives have been oppressed and thousands killed in what some have termed genocide.

While that dire reality deserves more attention, our focus here is on the rare chance to hear the music of West Papua. Relatively little has been recorded (with the exception of several other Lani Singers - Ninalik Ndawi - on SoundRoots.orgDancing Turtle releases), though the listener will certainly recognize some familiar strains in the Melanesian roots of the music -- harmonic patterns shared with Hawaiian and other Pacific island styles. The album starts out with two guitar and vocal pieces that share nearly identical music, an odd choice considering the diversity that appears shortly thereafter in the hypnotic chant of "Waiyaowa" and the cyclical harmonies of "Umameke Dearowakod."

[mp3] The Lani Singers: Waiyaowa
from Ninalik Ndawi

As the group's name suggests, this is essentially vocal music with the stringed instruments (guitar, bass, ukulele) playing a supporting role. The voices are loud and sharp, presumably a style required by unamplified performance (and sounding to my ears not unlike shapenote vocals). The album was recorded in British studios rather than in the field, so the sound quality is top-notch, but the singing style may grate on the uninitiated listener's ears after a few songs. So take this in bite-size pieces if you must, but do check it out.

More Lani Singers:

More resources on West Papua:

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