My name is Ado Kaliting Pacidal. I am a Pangcah person from Taiwan. Ado (pronounced “ah-tho”) is my given name. Kaliting is from my mother because all Pangcah people have our mother’s name as our middle name. The female is the more important gender in our culture. Pacidal (“the sun”) is my clan name.
The Pangcah know singing as a way to communicate with people. For us, singing is even more powerful than talking because when we sing a song we can express emotions that cannot be delivered by words alone. We sing a blessing to people who have a newborn baby or we sing to show our appreciation, our anger… Everyone sings in our culture.
When we sing, we practice our cultural connection to spirit, environment and humility. If we are working in the fields and we get tired we will sing. We may sing to the wind……“Wind, come and cool us down.”
Music is a weapon. It is a way for me to explore myself and it is a comfort to the musician and the listener.
“Small Island Big Song” is really important for me. Working with these people has inspired me to do better. In Taiwan a lot of things have changed, a lot of my culture has been lost. But in these islands so much of the culture remains and their music, their instruments, are still so strong. It’s really special. This Austronesian connection is a gateway for me and others to understand the similarities between the Taiwanese indigenous people and these islands.
- Ado Kaliting Pacidal, Pangcah Taiwan
My genealogy is everywhere. It is in my tattoo as well as in nature and identity and music. For Maori, we have a genealogy that goes right back to the environment. We don’t see ourselves as separate because we are human. We’re a little bit different from a tree but our genealogy that goes back to the tree.
In our stories, the beginning of creation was darkness which holds potential. Then comes the first parents, the sky father and the earth mother. From them comes nature. All of it- the wind, the trees, the rain- has a name and a spirit. Humans come last. The first human was a woman who was shaped in fashion from the sacred red clay of the earth.
I think the whole world’s colonized, not just indigenous people. Part of colonization is colonizing the land too. It puts the man in power. It takes away the connection that comes from acknowledging that nature is the power. So this is where we all have to decolonize our minds.
A lot of people now days talk about “connection to the earth” but, practically, how do you connect to the earth?
We have a saying, “You don’t talk about the environment, you talk with the environment.” Everyday when I wake up I say a chant acknowledging my place in the natural world. There’s different ones for if I wake up in a different mood, or I notice something different. If it’s windy then I’ll talk to TAFIHI, the wind, or if it’s raining it’s all about giving thanks and celebrating connection with the rain. When I hear the chorus of the birds I’m talking to the birds.
This is the gift of the sounds of nature. All of our musical instruments come from nature- trees, stones, bones. I’ve learned to play those instruments with modern music because we’re evolving and reflecting what’s happening around us. All music comes from nature.
Small Island Big Song is so special. When I went onto the stage everything flowed for me. I was buzzing. It was epic. What’s happened with indigenous people is we’ve all been in our own pocket fighting for our culture and this is about uniting with other indigenous people in raising our voice. The energy is crazy when we are all together.
The trouble that we’re in at the moment with the world is wrong thinking. Going back to the indigenous perspective of life will be how we save ourselves as humanity. None of the solutions are complicated. Being Maori for me is about connection to environment, connection to each other and connection to yourself.
When I talk about our indigineity, part of raising our indigenous voice is to remind people let’s all go back to being indigenized. We’re all indigenous. Everyone’s ancestor is from the land. Let’s get back to the natural intelligence, recognizing that the true power is nature.
- Jerome Kavanagh, Maori Aotearoa/New Zealand
Yoyo Tuki is my name and I am a Rapa Nui musician, visual artist and cultural activist. I am committed to promoting the culture and the story of my people.
Rapa Nui (Easter Island) is one of the most remote places on the planet but we feel connected. We have spirits for the rain, for the ocean, for the land…each place, each tribal land has their own spirit. The ancestors are the main thing for us, just as it is throughout the Pacific, throughout Polynesia. It is very important for these people to know their lineage. It is reassurance.
My grandfather was a master carver and story teller, a very respected elder. All my uncles, and my mum, are carvers. My grandmother comes from a line of ancient singers. Her whole lineage was the family that sings. My cousins paint. The arts are everywhere.
I carve wood, I paint, I sing, I dance.
Music in the past was very important in everyday life, for ceremonies, and to express people’s feelings. There were many songs that were passed from one generation to another.
Music is a burning in my heart. I write songs about my heritage but it’s not all heritage. I write some songs about love or sometimes I sit and see something that touches me. I’m a human being, just as much as I am a Rapanui.
For me the environment is very important. The health of our planet, the animals, and our own health are important. I need to stay connected and be conscious. Being conscious is part of my job as well.
Small Island Big Song has been quite an experience. It’s been beautiful to connect and it aligns with many things that I was already connecting with. It felt like it was just meant to be and I was fully humble to be able to contribute.
When these guys came to me they wanted a song and it was finished….alignment. Alignment is a confirmation. It’s saying to you “proceed.”
I just hope that we can help people get closer to the earth again, to look back a bit and feel closer to their connection to place, to their own groups. It doesn’t have to be indigenous. It’s really good for everyone to know who you are, where you came from, your connection to family, to your roots.
Our world today needs to plug in again. It’s been unplugged. We’re not perfect, we’re not like “Oh indigenous.” I just hope that by doing what we do we help the world reconnect.
- Yoyo Tuki, Rapa Nui/Easter Island
I am Alena Murang and I play the Sape, a lute instrument from Borneo traditionally only played by men. It is an instrument of the Kenyah tribe. I am not Kenyah myself. My mother is English – a teacher- and my father is from the Kelabit people, a small neighbouring tribe of the Kenyah. There are only four thousand or so left of my tribe. Our place is in Sarawak, central Borneo, where Malaysia meets Indonesia. It is said that there are more orangutan in Borneo than Kelabit. And everyone knows there aren’t many orangutans left.
The songs of my people, while more focused on myths and traditions and stories, also show a strong affinity with nature. Rivers, stones, weather and rice farming are constant motifs. Our calendar centres around the seasons of rice growing and, living in rainforest villages, the river was our avenue for trade. My Kelabit name- Lipang- means “rice husk”.
Everything in the past harked back to nature. The world has changed. Young Kelabit people now want to move from the villages to the cities for work. I myself live in Kuala Lumpur. I work as a session musician in ads and play with mainstream bands. This is today’s world.
However, in the quite recent past, in the time of my grandparents for example, there was a relationship with nature. The people were resourceful. They did not waste. They only hunted or foraged for what they needed.
We can learn much from the songs of these people. For me, hearing the songs and stories from the past has made me realise that humans are part of nature. We are not responsible for looking after it. We are nature.
“Small Island Big Song” has been powerful. It has been lovely to connect with other islander musicians. First of all I love their music, but more than this, working with them has given me a deeper feeling for my own culture and music. When I played in modern bands I used to feel that my tunings and tempo were a problem. I thought I was off tempo with them.
I know now that I am not off tempo. My tempo and my tunings are different. That difference comes from the music of a culture that values hard work. Whether male or female, the Kelabit value, expect and respect hard work. The difference in tempo and tuning comes from a culture that is loving and kind. It comes from a culture that welcomes the stranger.
- Alena Murang, Kelabit Borneo
My name is Patrick Maher. I am a hip hop artist and I come from the Torres Strait Islands, which we call “Zenadth Kes”. My stage name is Mau Power.
I developed a relationship with hip hop when I was a teenager because it didn’t discriminate. It didn’t care who you were. At the same time that I discovered hip hop I also discovered stories through music when I heard an artist called Archie Roach. His song, “They Took The Children Away”, introduced me to the black history of Australia. It made me understand that this is what I want to do, to tell stories through music.
All of our tribes - our Torres Strait culture - identify with particular animal groups from the region and environmental elements like wind and rain. We understand and respect their spirit. Everything has spirit. For example, when our drum makers create a drum they treat it as if they are creating life and this continues right to the end when they name the drum. It is very personal and you treat a drum like you would treat a person. This is humility.
Spirit and humility go together.
The environment is the third thing that is central for us. We are people of the sea. It is our livelihood. If we don’t respect our surroundings then we have no life where we are situated.
Songs and dances are how we document knowledge. Someone choreographs a song or a dance to mark say, the season of catching. Through the dance and the song they can teach it on. Learning traditional music and dance is as important as learning the language or remembering the language, the lifestyle. Everything links with everything else- the dance, the song, the storytelling. You can’t have one without the other. They are all part of the whole ecosystem.
I was honoured, humbled and very excited to be included in Small Island Big Song and then, when I learned more about it and what it represented…..to be a part of that collective voice that spoke from nations of people was even more humbling….just to know that I could be included in something like that!
I believe that only people who don’t understand what culture is allow it to divide them. Everybody that we meet, like when I meet anybody who has a strong stance and a strong connection to their cultural values, we connect before we even speak. I feel the energy from them.
- Mau Power, Zenadth Kes/Torres Strait Australia
I am Sammy. Sammy is my artist name. I’m from the Merina tribe in Madagascar. In Madagascar there are 18 tribes and each tribe has its own customs, its culture.
My music began as a child. My mum said that when I was an infant I liked to listen to music from the southern part of Madagascar. The radio was different to today. They played different things including traditional music. I still remember those melodies.
Music is in my heart. At school I got good marks for music. Sometimes we had to play classical music but I preferred to play my traditional music. I don’t understand why but when I heard different kinds of traditional music I could play them on the flute.
Over time I came to play all the instruments in my country. I had a cassette player I would take it everywhere and record what I heard.
Even though there are 18 tribes in Madagascar, we are one people. As our proverb says, “We live in one house”. We are Malagasy family, one for everybody, everybody for one. We share. In our past there were no poor people and no rich people. They were no castes.
Our religion is respect. If you respect nature, if you respect people, if you respect everything, there are no problems in life because nature helps you, all things help you. You are in life.
People who watch nature know. “Ah, it’s been raining for two hours. Maybe tomorrow we will find fish.” But today that knowledge has died.
The knowledge of music is also dying but we can bring it back. People don’t understand why for example the Merina tribes sing these melodies, why they dance this way, move their hands like that, why they wear these traditional clothes. Nobody understands anymore. I know and I explain to the people.
I dreamed for a long time of finding someone who would bring our cultures together, bring people together, and now it’s beginning with Small Island Big Song. We are coming together. The musicians in this project feel that we are sisters and brothers. We are different but the same because we have the same ancestors.
I wrote some music and Tim asked me to play it on my instrument Valiha”. Tim took it to Taiwan and Ado felt she wanted to sing the song. When I heard the song I was very overcome. Music is togetherness.
- Sammy Samoela, Merina Madagascar
My culture is a gift.
My culture- Are'Are- is a gift. It is my decision to share that gift with people of other cultures through music.
This is why I share. I share what makes me the only other one. It is connection. It is also connection when I hear, for example, Chinese music. I will like it because I believe it is a gift, a treasure. It is a gift for the people there to hear it.
Sharing culture is connection. This is why I love this project. It is one of the greatest things I have ever been involved in. I have never done this before. When I hear the music of the other musicians I want to find the perfect instrument for it. I want to make a pan pipe in the perfect key. I want to try other instruments that I have heard and used at home in the Solomon Islands, but also in my travels to Denmark for a music festival. I want to help the music the best I can. Each musician is sharing their gift of culture and music.
I absolutely feel a connection with these musicians because they too are sharing, giving a gift to the world. In our music we can feel the similarities that cultures share.
Melanesian music has the rhythm of the sea. For us, the sea is in our music: the jumping of the tuna, “bonito”; the sound of the waves, with their different speeds as they respond to the wind. The beat and sound of our music responds to this. The dancing of the sea birds also responds to this. Seabirds move in rhythm with the waves and the jumping of the bonito.
We are in this world and in this music, and this world and this music is in us.
One day in the future if we are not careful all the life of the sea will be gone.
Everyone is the same. It is just a question of different lifestyles.
I live on the same ground as my forefathers. The ground has sustained us for our long history. When you hear our music you can hear the age of our history.
Sustainable farming, sustainable fishing. This is how we support ourselves.
What do we see now? We see logging companies remove all the trees, we see gold mining that removes large amounts of soil. We see dredge fishing that takes not only the fish but the environment for these fish to live in.
One day in the future if we are not careful all the life of the sea will be gone.
In all indigenous communities the conversation is always about conservation.
In our community, the elders pass on the knowledge of sustainable farming. It is in every conversation. That is our responsibility too.
We burn some of our plant growth and return the ashes to the soil to enrich it with nutrients. Our ancestors did not know the word “nutrients”, yet their sustainable practices show knowledge. So does their sustainable fishing.
Indigenous cultures have always seen conservation at the heart of all life. Everything must be sustainable. We garden carefully. We fish carefully.
Life is a gift. Now people live anywhere. This too is a blessing, a gift. It is a blessing for anyone living because billions did not make it: the babies who died; the ones never born. So those of us living are proud to experience living and to hear the sounds, the music around us.
Kindness to our ground and to each other makes our life sustainable. If everyone is kind, everyone is rich.
- Charles Maimarosia, Are'Are Solomon Islands
Interviewed & written by Wayne Furlong
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