Ben Hakalitz

Selau langauge group

Sorom Village, Bougainville,

Papua New Guinea

Ben is a highly respected veteran of the Melanesian music scene with a musical career spanning over 30 years, founding member of the Tribe of Jubal, the artistic director of Melanfunk, and also the drummer of Yothu Yindi, one of the most respected Australian Aboriginal bands, performed at major festival events across the globe.

Ben was awarded the Australia Centenary Medal for services to the Australian Community through Music and is now based in Cairns and Bougainville.

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Back in Sep' 2016 in Sorom village...

Tim first met Ben when Not Drowning Waving was touring PNG

and Australia promoting the Tabaran album, from Bougainville Ben

was already recognised as one of PNG’s best drummers, he has also just

released his own custom designed Drum kit. Tim and Ben have toured and

worked together on numerous projects since then including albums for Telek,

and Ben’s own Tribe of Jubal. (PNG masterpiece). So when Small Island Big Song

was imagined Ben was one of the first artists invited to join. We caught up with Ben

for a week in Cairn’s Australia on route from Aotearoa to PNG. BaoBao found the best/grooviest accom’ (as always) so we ended up staying on a yacht moored near Cairn’s for the week, and… it was called ‘Water Music’, (to cool!) we had the captain’s cabin.

 

The week was mostly spent in Ben’s studio, reviewing all the recordings and adding some overdubs, it was the first time we had been in a studio and not dodging the sun, wind and rain. We added mostly Kundu’s, Seed shakers and small Garamut drums, all classic PNG instruments, and the grooviest of news,  Ben was heading home to Bougainville and we could change our plans to catch up with him there. He said he could organise a Bamboo band in Buka and replace the guide acoustic guitars in the project with some real bush tones, whilst recording his SIBS contribution. So the last days at Ben’s studio were spent building the foundations of his song which would become Lea Sekau, which in itself is an amazing story exploring another cultural connection, one which Ben believes comes from Sudan, but that’s for the Lea Sekau story not here.

 

So a fortnight after saying lookem U to Ben, we were with him again in Bougainville, his home turf. The capital Buka town is on the Buka Island separated from the main island Bougainville by a deep narrow fast running channel, a wild banana boat road crossing we made regularly, it has a crazy frontier town vibe, (exciting). The first night there we crossed and met Koiawa the son of the paramount chief and the singer of Lea Seekau, and set up the recording session with him for the following day. Meeting at 10am we went to visit some good friends of Ben’s to use their home as a base for the session, scouting around their home we found a great location amongst the coastal mangroves, back at the base Koiawa was hearing the song he would sing in two hours for the first time, so with a pen in one hand an lunch in the other he began writing the melody and lyrics. Which he kept up right up till I called rolling, I’ve added the recording of him walking through the mangrove’s practicing the song whilst Ben held the Bluetooth speaker and guided him, in at the end of Lea Sekau.

It was a great session and he got the perfect take on the third run, love the way he put his whole heart into it, as though no one was watching, alone in the mangroves expressing  his love for his land, but of course there was an audience from village there behind the cameras.

 

Bouganville is closer to the Solomon Islands than mainland PNG, so naturally there is much shared culture, including instruments, and I knew the muso’s there would get Charles Maimarosia’s song and we could replace his acoustic guitars with a bamboo band’s polyphonic rhythms. Ben organised the wonderful Yumi Yet bamboo band, and off we went to the other side of Buka for the night recording. As well as adding the Bamboo’s to Lea Seekau and Naka Warawara To-o, we had a dedicated session with the group recording three power pop driving bamboo songs. One of Ben’s musical wantoks (friends) and local sound maestro came along to help, so a huge thank U tru to Tulo.

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