top of page


Motu People

Gabagaba village,

Papua New Guinea

"My approach to music is it comes from the beat first. Like the heart beat, the first rhythm, the first sign of life. The first drum I heard was the Gaba from my grand fathers, then came the Log drum the garamut from my neighbours. At a roots level we use it for communication, for ceremony, not for entertainment. Now we communicate on a world wide scale… to connect, to reconnect and reunite. Rhythm reminds me of family, even though we are separated by oceans the rhythm is like home. It speaks of youth and ancestry, history and future. To keep us connected in our daily life to the heart ... family."

- Airileke

Born in Australia with roots in PNG Airileke grew up between the shores of both PNG and the Top End. Airileke is a musical pioneer and a fighter for freedom traversing a timeless sonic globe without frontiers. He is a percussionist, producer, composer, activist, recording and global events facilitator and, in the words of Britain's Songlines magazine, "cause for celebration".

He was also the co-Artistic Director at the Pacific

Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies PNG


Airileke is a master drummer with one foot 

in the world of traditional drumming of 

Melanesia and his other in the modern

world of beat production and hip-hop.

Back in Sep' 2016 in Gabagaba village...

Airileke, one of the Pacific’s most respected drum masters grew up in a village named Drumdrum or Gabagaba in his Motu Language. (of Course he did!) And what an amazing village it is, with half the houses out on the ocean built on coconut palm trunks, scattered across a tranquil bay, stunning. We were there for five days staying and recording out on the water. Gabagaba is known as the village of the Kundu drum, a skin drum with a narrow hour glass shaped carved body. Airi has been developing a unique method of strapping three tuned Kundus together, you can hear him playing on Rajery’s ‘Zebu’.


On one of my previous visits I could hear the sound of a Kundu beating single hits, each 5 or so seconds apart for over a couple of hours, on asking where is that drum coming from he said, “It’s my Bubu my Kundu master calling me to him, I’m going there now, come along’. His house had kundus strung from every wall, without a word spoken Airi took one, and responded his Bubu’s Kundu call, they then began a conversation of rhythm, sparing beats and patterns off each other which lasted for about an hour, it was a powerful event to witness, one of ancient traditions, which Airileke is carrying through to future drum masters, and in the most surprising of ways.


For sitting beside Airi’s Kundus and Garamut drums are his MPC and laptop, for him a natural fit, so his contribution to Small Island Big Song, the song he was proud to represent his Motu, Gabagaba heritage with were beats, a 16 bar groove written on his computer, with samples made from his traditional drums and patterns and played live of his MPC. It really woke me to my prejudices, traditional culture didn’t stop with colonisation, these tools of the technological age are not for me to judge who uses them and how, because I somehow identify them as being from my heritage. Traditional culture is alive now, expressing now and it’s people like Airi who are imaging and creating options for it’s future, but not just Airi, I realized all of the Artists we had visited were playing this roll in their community.


Back to Gabagaba and Airi’s session, there were some other special moments to share before we run out of webspace, waking to the smell of salt and a fire cooking up breakfast, the model outrigger races which were going on around the houses whilst we were recording with the family, the hosts of the house, sharing some of their island style music, we included an excerpt at the start of Gabagaba song to set the mood.

Explore other artists

Also in Papua New Guinea

bottom of page