Small Island Big Song

Small Island Big Song is an 18 track album of songs recorded in the field on many different islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It was released at the end of last year and is the fruit of a project by Australian music producer and sound engineer Tim Cole and Taiwanese producer and project manager BaoBao Chen.

This mammoth undertaking involved the pair meeting and recording local musicians in diverse places over a period of three years. The resulting album contains traditional and original songs from Taiwan, Madagascar, Singapore, Indonesia, Vanuatu, Tahiti, Malaysia, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Torres Strait Australia, and Aotearoa, New Zealand.

The idea evolved initially from Cole and Chen’s concern about climate change and they wanted to travel to some of the islands under threat and to investigate the continuing existence of indigenous seafaring cultures and their music. They followed some of the paths taken by ancient seafarers who left Taiwan to travel the oceans. The songs they recorded were then mixed in a cultural mash-up with the artists contributing to each other’s music. The producers explain:

“We invited them to share a song in their language played on the instruments of their people, a song they are proud to represent their homeland with and to sing it in nature, a place with meaning to them, and then in the spirit of celebration overdub something onto other songs shared by musicians such as themselves.”

Around 30 artists are featured in the songs and a total of a hundred musicians were involved. What is most striking is the immediacy of the songs and their accessibility. This has been achieved without the interference of outsiders who might well have dabbled too much in trying to make the songs palatable to a worldwide audience. In fact, it’s quite the opposite as the natural surroundings and music create a very authentic and vibrant sound.

With so many artists sharing their music it’s perhaps pointless to single out individual songs but a favourite is ‘Sacanoy’ which begins as a lullaby and then takes off in other directions while managing to somehow combine a Madagascan composition by Tarika Sammy and a vocal from Ado Kaliting Pacidal in Pangcah, Taiwan.

Some of the Madagascan and Hawaiian music might be more familiar and elsewhere there are hints of reggae and rap but for the most part this is music that will be new to many listeners. And all played on acoustic instruments. It sounds great and listening to these songs just confirms that the ocean doesn’t separate these people but instead unites them.

Small Island Big Song has already been nominated for awards including best album in the UK’s Songlines magazine Asia & Pacific category and some of the musicians have already toured together to give live performances around the world.

Producers Tim Cole (third from left) and BaoBao Chen (right) answer questions at the Okinawa International Movie Festival.

Last week a ‘visual album’ was given its world premiere when it was screened as part of the Okinawa International Movie Festival in Naha. The producers appeared at the screening to talk about their project and answer questions. One obvious omission is the music of the Ryukyu Islands. It seems the producers were not aware of the wealth of wonderful songs from these islands and there were also financial constraints. Perhaps that will be put right in a future project!

The Small Island Big Song website contains a huge amount of information concerning the artists, their songs, and the project in general. There are also many photos and videos.

Explore posts in the same categories: Roots Music from Out There

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