© Geoffrey Heard 2014
I love to dance! Bizarre though it might seem for a 72 year old clapped out wreck, play almost any Tolai (or Islands generally) rock -- it's a kind of islands-rock-hiphop-reggae fusion -- and I am in for some freestyle dancing in the Islands manner for a minute, for an hour, or for half the night. (To see what our dancing looks like, click here -- some of my pictures from the Vavagil Bar.)
There is one particular song, O Kulex, which has a magical effect on me. I might be exhausted, I might be depressed, I might be a couple under the prescribed minimum to loosen the joints or a couple over it so that the joints are a touch too loose, but play O Kulex and I will rise to the occasion. A dozen other songs have a similar but slightly lesser effect.
And so it was that I was in a highly frustrating situation last night, Tuesday 16 September, celebrating the 39th anniversary of Papua New Guinea's independence from Australia, having a fun time busily photographing the East New Britain Music Creators and Performers Association festival sponsored by the Provincial Governor, Ereman ToBaining (I knew his grandfather a little, Vin, a wonderful, thoughtful, progressive, and community-minded man), to mark Independence.
But when you are taking pictures, you can't dance! Well, can you? Nope -- you take your pictures and keep watching for opportunities for better ones.
Wow, what a line up! George Telek, the long-time King of Tolai rock and a good friend (right); Ansalom, the O Kulex man whom I met for the first time; Tati, I love his work and met him for the first time too; and more, each playing brackets of two or three numbers.
By the end of the night, I was so fatigued I was stumbling on the steps to the stage and hanging on to the stage edge to stop myself falling over.
So I took my last picture (left) William Gordon and M4 band (from Malakuna #4). Then the magic happened.
I hadn't been aware of it, but this band was the source of one of my favorites -- Kande Mahn -- and that was the song they were playing to end the night. Fatigue rolled away from me like the sweat of the night (it tends of be hot and humid here), my eyes snapped open, my feet began to move, I dumped my camera on the edge of the stage, and I was away!
Now -- here is a funny thing. When these artists from the land of the Tolai people around Kokopo-Rabaul visit places like the capital, Port Moresby, they attract a huge audience of their own people (and lots of others too!) and those people, those Tolais, dance their hearts out.
Consequently, in Port Moresby and other parts of PNG, Tolais have a reputation for being dancing fools.
But at home in Kokopo and Rabaul, these same musicians can tear themselves to shreds turning on the performances of their lives, and as last night, nobody dances because they are not in some kind of designated dancing place such as a club or a bar -- and perhaps somewhat lubricated. They just sit or stand around and watch and listen, leaving a large clear area around the stage in the expectation that others will want to dance there.
But practically nobody does.
There might have been three thousand people there last night, maybe more, and a total of three people had danced towards the end of the night, their antics greeted with roars of applause. That was it.
I had marked a guy who had danced a couple of times, I thought he was pretty good, so when I started in, I pointed to him. He was on board in a flash and the crowd roared as the two of us faced off (there is no bar here to two men dancing and no implications beyond the dance -- we're just dancing fools!), then a woman who had danced before came running out to join in, then another man, and suddenly, there were 30 or 40 of us, men and women, young and old, all going for our lives!
The crowd was going nuts, the band screwed even more blood, sweat, and tears out of themselves, and we had a helluva go for the best part of 10 minutes! What a climax to the night!
I gathered up my team and began the two kilometer walk home in the warm darkness -- tired, but I was high on the music, high on the pictures I had taken (there had been some technical difficulties to overcome), and highest of all on dancing before an audience of thousands and seducing at least a few dozen Tolais to throw their inhibitions to the wind and dance with me!
At the market today, a lady of mature years remarked to the kids (in Tolai): "Hey, your bubu (grandfather) was pretty good last night, he really knows how to dance!"
"He's my daddy," my (adopted) daughter replied smugly.
The kids were proud when they told me; I felt distinctly chuffed on both counts -- that the lady liked my dancing and that the kids were proud of me.
* My thanks to Nikos Kazantzakis and Mikis Theodorakis, Elli P, and the Melbourne Greek community who taught me to do a pretty good sirtaki and dance in front of thousands without fear. :) ###