That was then, this is now
WE’RE now well into the second week of 2005 and memories of Yumi FM’s SP Top 100 end-of-year countdown still linger.
The power of each song truly cementing its position on the chart indicating the stage to which the Papua New Guinea music industry has developed and I thought that we might look back and examine the development of the entertainment industry thus far.
In the last 30 years the influence of international and regional music artists has taken a stronghold in this country positively contributing to the higher quality sound and the more professional stage performances of our own artists.
The conquering by international artists really began in the early 70s when Bougainville Copper brought in international acts to entertain the large expatriate population from the mine site and those who lived in the mining town of Arawa.
There was a consistent flow of performers from Australia and New Zealand who came to perform at the Davara Hotel, Toniva or the Arovo Island Resort, in the Kieta Harbour.
While in Port Moresby in the late 70s, Brian Aitken of the former Islander Hotel (now Holiday Inn) was signing up a variety of overseas entertainers every month to perform to hotel patrons, notable of them, Australia’s newest import singing sensation at the time, Marcia Hines.
But it was the cigarette brand, Benson and Hedges, that brought international artists to the people of PNG as the star attractions to its Golden Tones music series of outdoor concerts in Port Moresby in the early ‘90s.
Benson and Hedges were also the first corporate name to finance live concerts of PNG bands all over the country every year during the run of Golden Tones Music series that culminated in the international star attractions at the Sir John Guise stadium, that one year included a great tour by former Madang cowhand and one of Australia’s most prolific country performers, James Blundell.
Then towards the end of the decade, “new kids on the block”, Nau FM, brought into the country popular international greats in the likes of Boney M, Lucky Dube, O’Yaba, and more recently, Makoma, all further markedly influencing the standards of our own music industry.
Chin Ho Meen Supersounds studios concentrated on and rightly so, bringing in popular artists from our region including Daniel Rae Costello and other bands and artists from Fiji, New Zealand and Australia for outdoor concerts here and sending our own local stars on extensive tours of the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, under the banner, The Super band while its former rival, Pacific Gold sent the very best from its stable, the likes of Barike, to New Caledonia.
And it would be remiss of me not to mention that during the 80s PNG music was already being played on international arenas all over the world by our first international music artists, Sanguma who created an international reputation and a huge worldwide following by fusing modern music with traditional PNG tunes and instruments complete with PNG art and stage costumes.
Then other artists from the region also arrived for engagements, Vanessa Quai from Vanuatu, Black Rose from Fiji, Isles De Sound and Sharzy and Barnzie from Solomon Islands, Mataqali band of Fiji to name a few.
But perhaps all of this may not have turned out the way it has, if it had not been for the forerunners to the NBC, the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the Department of Information and Extension Services (DIES) who very strongly encouraged the rise of local musicians and bands in the pre-Independence years.
These two organisations were responsible, independently of each other, for the beginning of what is now the PNG music industry, DIES was responsible in the main for recording PNG traditional and stringband music since the 60’s for program use at its radio stations in Rabaul and Wewak that formed part of what is now known as the NBC Kundu Service.
The ABC, that was then broadcasting from the present NBC studios at Wonga Estate, Five-Mile, began recording mainly Port Moresby based “power bands” like the Kontikis, Freebeats, Kopykats, Stalemates and other Papuan bands that it released through the New Zealand based Viking Records to satisfy the “lust” for Papuan music of the mainly expatriate patrons of the hotels, bars and taverns around Port Moresby.
ABC hardly used local music in its predominantly western music programs that varied from classical, jazz, pop and country while at the other end of the scales, DIES made recordings to feed its wide local content music programs and formats.
It was not until 1973 when ABC was merged with the Information Division of DIES to form the National Broadcasting Commission that recordings of local bands was formally included in radio programs for the national audience.
But a few years before that, in Rabaul a new sound emerged from among the swaying palm and shady cocoa trees of New Britain District.
Local music accompanied by the imported ukulele and acoustic guitar was developing at a very fast pace, but none created the impact of one Blasius ToUna whose debut solo hit on radio, Singapo, Yu Bun Blong Ol Tolai was an instant success.
This song became the first ever hit by a Papua New Guinean to get equal airplay on the DIES provincial radio networks, both on the New Guinea and Papuan sides of the country.
It was the singular local song to sit at No.1 on all radio stations’ local “Hit Parade” programs for many weeks.
Singapo, Yu Bun Blong Ol Tolai was the first local song to break down the barriers of PNG ethnic cultures with an across-the-board appeal.
Blasius followed this unusual success with other similar comic songs that also became moderate hits across the country. His music styles and unique lyrics were so well accepted by all age groups that the NBC commissioned Magnetic Tapes of Sydney to press on vinyl record a whole collection of ToUna’s songs making him the first Papua New Guinean to release a complete album.
It was in the early 70s that a young, energetic businessman in Port Moresby first made firm plans to commercialise PNG music.
Raymond Chin saw the potential to increase popularity and wide appeal of local music through mass production for commercial purpose.
In a make-shift studio at the CHM main office at Tabari Place, Boroko, the Chin Hoi Meen managing director set up an eight-track recording console and hired former DIES broadcaster Tom Sinari to source out and start recording of PNG musicians and bands.
And here was the birth of the first ever stereo recording of local bands and their music.
Meanwhile back in Rabaul identical arrangements were being put in place to slap on tape the music from the surrounding villages.
By this time bands from there had already earned a special reputation, their sound being dubbed by NBC radio announcers as “Tolai rock”, Kuanua language and music sung with a peculiar rock beat.
And to cater for the influx of requests by local bands to record their music, Soundstream Studios was set up to record Tolai bands and choirs.
Present bigtimers, Barike, Painim Wok, Jnr Molachs, Shutdown and others set their modest beginnings there.
Soundstream in time changed its trading name to Pacific Gold when CHM set up its own recording house in Rabaul and by this time a third studio, Kuanua studios had sprung up to take advantage of the upsurge in Tolai interest to record their music.
Not to be left behind, the NBC saw there was a buck to be made from the commercialisation of recorded local music, and so set up its own 16 tracks recording facilities at Broadcast House, Five-Mile where it also recorded music for commercial release.
It seemed at the time that the whole country was covered, with two studios in Rabaul and two in Port Moresby.
Then the event of the twin volcano eruptions in East New Britain in 1994 effectively shut down the Rabaul studios.
A few months later Pacific Gold studios re-established its recording business in Port Moresby after salvaging what it could of the masters from its library in Rabaul. Since then the country has seen an influx of new studios being set up, not only in Port Moresby but in other provinces including again Rabaul.
Island Sound studios opened its doors securing a contract to record bands in Rabaul for release under CHM, Palm Slave Studios announced its opening in Kimbe, Cyclone studios started work from Gordons, Sound View set up shop at Waigani and more recently Powerhouse studios began business in Lae.
So yes we have come a long way in 30 years and now boast having international stars like Telek who recently released his third international album in Australia, Ben Hakalitz our export drummer and member of Australia’s Yothu Yindi.
We have in the last four years registered several very successful overseas engagements such as the City Mission tours of Australia by Patti Potts Doi and Hitsy Golou, the tours of Europe of Tribesmen, and Telek’s continued impact in the Solomons, Vanuatu and worldwide, Hitsy’s runaway successes in the Cook Islands, Buruka Tau’s music clinic tours of South East Asia, the PGS combined band’s tour of Australia, John Wong’s successes at the Pacific Music Awards in Brisbane and other PNG music exploits overseas.
* You can read this story in Tok Pisin this week only in the Wantok Niuspepa.
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