Sanguma and cultural identity

 

During the turbulent decades of the 1970s and 1980s, Papua New Guinea gained political independence from a colonial hold that had lasted almost a century. It was an exciting time for a diverse group of pioneering musicians who formed a band they named Sanguma.

These Melanesian artists heard an imagined future and performed it during a socially and politically critical time for the region. They were united under one goal: to create a sound that represented the birth of a new, sovereign, and distinctly Melanesian nation; and to express their values, identities, and cosmology through their music and performance.

Sanguma’s experimental music sounded the complex expectations and pressures of their modern nation and helped to steer its postcolonial journey through music. Drawing from rock, jazz, and nascent world music influences, Sanguma reached audiences far from their home nation, introducing the world to modern music, Melanesia-style, with its fusion of old and new, local and global.

Their performances ranged from ensembles of Melanesian log drums (garamuts) to extended songs and improvisations involving electric guitars, synthesizers, saxophone, trumpet, bamboo percussion, panpipes, and kuakumba flutes. The band sang in a variety of local vernacular languages, as well as in Tok Pisin and English. To further emphasize their ancestral style, the musicians wore decorative headdresses and body decorations from all around the nation.

This according to Hearing the future: The music and magic of the Sanguma band by Denis Crowdy (Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2016).

Below, excerpts from live performances.

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