The National, Friday 18th November 2011
PAPUA New Guineans living in Melbourne, Australia were treated to a very special Independence Day celebration recently.
Indeed over a month later they are still surrounded by the hype created by a group of young, energetic and vibrant musicians from the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.
Niigana band, comprising of young men previously associated with the once famous Niu Age band certainly left a lasting impression for its Melbourne fans and the PNG community in the Victorian capital. And they are looking forward to another Niigana performance next year.
For these young Bougainvillean men, music is more a social hobby used to express themselves thus the formation of Niigana last year. Their hit single Halia has been pumping the airwaves around the country and features Alfred Tukal of Raiwat.
Their trip to the Victorian capital was through the invitation of The Wantoks Group of Victoria. The Wantoks Group is made up of the PNG Students Association and PNG residents of Victoria.
The group established last year, acts as a point of contact for students and PNG citizens needing support and guidance in Victoria. The idea generated after constant issues with student medical emergencies and the increasing number of patients coming from PNG to seek specialist medical treatment.
The Wantoks Group decided to host the PNG Independence Day celebrations because they wanted the students, the community and friends in Victoria to have an avenue to get together. The idea of promoting local PNG musicians was mooted as it would suit the celebrations.
Plans fell into place quicker than expected as Madang student John Wennal knew exactly the band to ask given his close association with Niigana’s frontman, Francisco Palin. Several email exchanges later, an official invitation was sent for the band to play at the 36th Independence Day celebrations in Melbourne.
Under the arrangement, The Wantoks Group would provide food, accommodation and transport. A K15,000 sponsorship from the National Gaming Control Board (NGCB) assisted with the group’s travel costs.
On Sept 11 the Niigana band members boarded the flight to Melbourne after weeks of band practice and anxiety over whether passports and visas would be processed in time for the trip.
Francisco, elder sibling and drummer Benjamin, lead guitarist Freddy Maneo, bass guitarist John Yass Jr, keyboardist Jimmy Piriri, vocalist Bruce Aisa, keyboardist and live sound engineer Nigel Golu, back-up vocalist Alfred Tukal of Raiwat Band and Tour Manager Clelland Tukana finally made the journey to Melbourne on that day.
A night’s stopover in Brisbane gave the boys an opportunity to acclimatise. They were warmly welcomed on Australian soil by fellow Buka Islander Brian Semoso and his family. A quick tour of Brisbane city gave the boys some firmiliarisation of the lifestyle.
Meanwhile, an excited PNG community in Melbourne was eagerly waiting as news spread of the band’s onward journey to Melbourne. Niigana arrived to a rousing welcome by The Wantoks Group led by chairperson, Linda Koerner and the PNG community. It was an overwhelming experience for the band members given the cultural transition they had taken in 48 hours.
It was the beginning of a week of sightseeing, shopping and preparing for the celebrations planned for Saturday Sept 17.
Every Papua New Guinean in the city wanted to meet the band and wherever they walked, a group would come up and ask for a photo shoot with the boys. The hype surrounding their visit was highlighted with a live interview on Radio Australia Tok Pisin Service with announcer Pearson Vetuna on Independence Day. As Pearson pointed out, it was the first time ever a PNG based rock band went down to perform in Melbourne to celebrate PNG’s Independence.
When the celebrations began, Niigana did what it does best on the stage. The band brought the house down with its fine mix of musical genres from rock, reggae, techno and sentimental, they also sang other famous PNG songs and in different dialects. This definitely connected with the hearts of the PNG community as the dancing floor was packed to capacity.
They celebrated in style and unity as the band played the famous ‘Wan Kantri’ song from Barike band and some legendary PNG hits which brought back memories for friends who attended the event.
It was indeed a celebration that The Wantoks Group had wished for and a trip that the Niigana band had fulfilled for international exposure with its Bougainvillean brand of music.
As for the young men who play music as a hobby second to their professional jobs, it is truly satisfying to have taken their musical talents to another level.
The PNG Wantoks Group will continue to fundraise to meet their major objectives and plans are being made for a major fundraiser for the band in Melbourne in the coming years.
It is also fitting to note that Niigana have already attracted interested groups in Australia who have close links with PNG for the band to perform at their organised fundraising events.
The Niigana Band will be performing live at the Sports Inn on Dec 3 for the Gordon International School fundraising dance.