Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The Funkiest Music in the World

I remember a  few years ago watching a cracking documentary about the isolated people of Bougainville called Our Island, Our Fight. The island was a near autonomous region at the eastern end of Papua New Guinea being plundered for minerals by the shady multi-national RTZ. The island's residents were rightly narked that their Island was being ripped to bits without them seeing any benefits from the trade, so they started to kick up a fuss - a move that led to a blockade that completely cut them off from the outside world.

The film showed the islanders' remarkable resourcefullness, and their make-do-and-mend attitude led to them creating some extraordinary organic machines. But as fascinating as all this was, it was the soundtrack that really got to me. From the opening scenes, a fabulous, funky twang underpinned the movie's events - and I just couldn't work out what was making it. It didn't quite sound like a stringed instrument, but it also wasn't a drum noise. It had me bamboozled, until one scene panned round to show a gang of men hammering away on the end of a stack of bamboo pipes with their shoes! Now I wasn't expecting that.

That sound had been kicking around in the back of my head ever since, until I randomly bought a job lot of albums in a cheap sale at an old dying record shop last week. I was churning my way through a rather interesting compilation album of international sounds called Island Blues, when all of a sudden that familiar and glorious thumppa-thumppa-thumppa-thumppa noise from Bougainville came belting out of my stereo.

Sure enough, it was a group from PNG called the Pynolasa Bamboo Band. I've tried to track some more of their stuff down on the internet, but alas to no avail. But I did get to find out a little more about this fantastic music. It turns out that it originated in The Solomon Islands, and started to shift to other neighbouring islands in the 1920s. Originally they hit the end of the pipes with coconut husks, but when American forces passed through in the war they suggested that their sandals might make better hitting paddles. And so it's gone on ever since. No contemporary instruments, no amplification, but such a glorious racket.

Have a look at a these few shaky YouTube clips, and you'll be hooked, I guarantee! Its organic rock'n'roll rattle is unarguably the funkiest music on the planet.

A bamboo band from Papua New Gunea

The Bougainville Boys in rehearsal

The Shortland Bambu Band from The Solomon Islands

A Solomon pipe band - just watch those kids hammer those pipes!

Map picture © Wikipedia.
Videos from YouTube. Underlying © lays with the owners of the clips. 


  1. Amazing. I completely agree with your rock'n'roll reference too; if you close your eyes, there are aspects of the first and last one particularly that sound like Buddy Holly & The Crickets!

  2. I totally agree!!
    if you're interested I have a compilation released by a new caledonian label called Bamboo bands from PNG.. amazing!
    send me an email at drickos a t yahoo do t fr and I'll send you the link..


    (could you please delete this message as well so I don't get mails from everyone...)