There are certain things that are mandatory in life, (in their varying degrees). Going to school, going to church, visiting the village, learning how to scrape coconut or making a bilum. Okay maybe those last 2 items on the list shouldn’t be mandatory but its one of those things that makes you feel a little more Papua New Guinean.
So I would dare say that any Papua New Guinean should also make it personally mandatory to witness a performance by Tribe of Jubal. My initial thoughts were that it was great that a group of artists had picked up where the legendary trial blazers ‘Sanguma’ had left off. But I admit I was skeptical to some extent of the authenticity of the group.
It’s a big and sometimes ugly word, this ‘authenticity’. In this sense I refer to cultural authenticity. I don’t want to sound arrogant and overly nationalistic when I say this, but my feelings have always been that Papua New Guinean’s themselves should be the front runners in promoting and developing their own arts and culture. So with these ideas swirling in my head, my issues were all safely put to rest when I realised that there was only one Australian in the band, the rest were all Papua New Guinean.
With that part of me reassured, I listened as the MC on the night began his introduction by telling the audience that they would (among other things) be witnessing our traditions in music through Tribe of Jubal and that some of it would be music that you have known for years.
Okayee…interesting I thought… and then in came the Manus dance group ‘Paluai SookSook’.
Everyone is familiar with the energy of the Manus dance, the ‘hey, hey, hey’ and the thrusting of hips has always been a PNG favourite. And the drum beats, well they’re priceless. Everyone knows that drum beat, so on stage they had 3 garamuts, one large one and 2 smaller ones which they used to good effect.
With the audience feet tapping and the Paluai SookSook dancers doing their ‘thang’, the crowd was slowly being aroused for the night to come. So you had the Manus beats being belted away and just when I was thinking that they would finish up with a finale for Tribe of Jubal to start, in comes the band with Airi Ingram charging towards the drum kit where his hands found the drum sticks and the drum sticks found the drum skins.
Now this really caught my attention when Airi seamlessly joined in with the garamut beats with the drum kit. The effect you had was like a sooped up Manus garamut beat with heavier thumps and bolder sounds. It was as though the Manus beats had just been injected with steroids and you could really feel the sound through the big speakers in the club. Ahhhh…I thought to myself, now I get it, so this is how you make traditional sounds contemporary.
Band leader Ben Hakalitz and the rest of the band comprising of Pius Wasi, Airi, Richard Mogu, Nikki Doll, Baruka Tau, Phil Bywater, and others then all joined in with layers upon layers of textured sound to kick start the night. From an entertainment point of view it was good to see the Paluai SookSook dancers continue with their thrusts and sways as the music morphed from the Manus beats into the first song of the night for Tribe of Jubal.
I was pleased to learn that Tribe of Jubal had chosen to start their world tour in PNG, it makes it right some how, like a thank you to the source of your strength before you went out into the world to sing about the place you come from. To share with us wantoks before you started your sharing with the rest of the world. Tribe of Jubal have toured extensively since 2007, traveling around Australia and the Pacific like Vanuatu and New Caledonia. This I believe is their second major tour now which will have them trotting around major festivals in Australia like the BluesFest in Easter and further on to the Montreal Jazz Festival in Switzerland in July.
The performance at Lamana only went for an hour and a half and although short and sweet I felt as though it went for longer. Throughout the performance Ben and Pius explained certain aspects of the music and its roots in PNG. Pius and Richard also did an interesting set with traditional bamboo flutes from Simbu, imitating animals like the Bird of Paradise. I particularly liked this part as the shrill sounds of the flute jumped back and forth from Pius to Richard in a nice duet of sound.
I was looking forward to seeing Vanessa Quai at the vocals, but Nikki Doll had replaced her for this gig. Nikki had toured with Tribe of Jubal last year to New Caledonia and she certainly made her presence felt on the night. Her infectious smile made me realise that we don’t have too many female leads in bands or when our local artists get out there they don’t smile enough so you could certainly feel the warmth and energy from her and all of the band. I’d say all up it really was an entertaining performance with the band using the whole Lamana stage area to dance, sing and play as band members like Ben, Richard and Airi rotated from instrument to instrument as required. They even had West Papuan dancer, Hein performing in the background which was a nice touch.
As Pius stated on the night, it’s a shame that the radios don’t play more of this type of music. He observed quite correctly that this really is PNG’s ‘classical’ music and I would agree with that. Finally, a musical art form that you can listen to and feel its connecting you to your past. Maybe this is how the western world thinks of their Opera and classical music?