14degrees 18.8minutes South
167degrees 25.9minutes East
The sights of the festival were visually exciting. The sounds were equally moving! There were at least four very different types of music we heard during these few days. Some we have heard before – but two of the varieties we've heard for the first time.
The Singing: The folks from these villages love to sing and they do. If they knew a song that the band was playing they would jump up and sing along. They welcomed us with a song and many of their dances included singing. Some of the sounds would include a loud yelling sound – especially during the woman's kastam dance,
The Tam-Tam: This is a large wooden log with a slit in the center. It is hit with wooden sticks and makes an incredible sound. They come in various sizes and styles – some very basic looking like a log – others quite carved and elaborate totem like structures. The large ones make a loud deep sound and the smaller hand-held ones made a less bass sound. The small tam tams are often held by one person and played by another during the kastam dances. We had both played often during the festival for various purposes from calling people together to creating music for a ceremony or dance. The large drums often have three players with the central player being the leader – calling the shots – the others on each side of him follow his lead.
The bamboo band: This was amazing. The bamboo band came from another village on Gaua – Lemoga Village - about a ten hour walk away! There were around 34 people in the band including the drummers, blowers and singers. The instruments are of varying sizes and all made from bamboo of varying widths and lengths. There are anywhere from about five pieces to 20 pieces of bamboo in each instrument. Some are struck with a wooden stick that has a foam paddle at the end. The paddle part hits and covers the end hole of the bamboo piece making an incredible sound of varying musical notes. Some of the other bamboo players use the bamboo and blow into the pieces – with great energy and enthusiasm making an almost tuba like sound. Michael tried to get a sound out of it but couldn't manage one. Some of the players are quite young. Some of the instruments are quite large and have stands that they sit upon to be played. It is quite a sight and the sound is really unique and remarkable This band has only been performing for two years. The "bamboo band" tradition has moved to Vanuatu from the Solomon Islands and seems to slowly be working its way south. This group is self taught and made their own instruments and write their own songs and musical arrangements. The village chief, Edwin, is also the band's leader. This band worked very hard throughout the festival playing for the two days of the festival, for a special Saturday morning "farewell" for a Saturday night party in the village and then some even stayed to play again on Tuesday in the village for their "saint's day." They were probably the hardest working musicians we've ever seen. Their pay: kava! As the band told us "No kava. No band."
Water Music: The last daytime activity of the two day festival was "water music." This is a woman's dance/music. They perform it in the river in waist deep water. The group of women of any number, gather in the river or ocean and literally splash around in the water. But what looks like simply playtime for adults is actually music. They synchronize their movement of hands and elbows through the water to create amazing sounds. They have a very deep thumping sound as well as higher notes. The sound coming together makes beautiful music. This particular music is said to actually have started in this bay – started by women simply playing in the water while doing their laundry and taking baths. It was started long ago and then disappeared from the culture and was reintroduced about 30 years ago. Now it is spreading throughout Vanuatu as women move from Gaua to other parts of the island chain through marriage or work. They are teaching it to others and water music is being performed on other islands as well. But it was really something to see and hear. Certainly one of the highlights of the festival.
So we got to see traditional activities and heard remarkable sounds. Take advantage of the Gaua Lakona Bay festival if you are ever in Vanuatu August 20 and 21 – same dates every year!
At 8/23/2015 4:43 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 14°12.47'S 167°34.19'E
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