Return of string band sounds

Weekender

By LARRY ANDREW
MUSIC produced now in Papua New Guinea is for club dancing so most of it is pushed to that corner, according to one of PNG’s finest musicians, Richard Mogu.
“There’s whole lot of people that get deprived of the fine music like string bands and our PNG contemporary styles that are yet to be exposed which brings me to say that my main purpose of establishing a studio is to record string bands.”
Mogu, with the support of his friend Graham Roni, has set up Konsel Production recording studio in Lae with the main focus in promoting live music.
The studio located at Geo Place, Boundary Road, has been in operation for some time now and has recorded a gospel band from the Anglican Church and a few string bands.
“String band music is what we grew up with so that’s the main reason for setting up the studio even though some people might say we work within the gospel circle and might say it’s a gospel studio. No, a studio is a studio and records anything as long as we are hitting the mission and our purpose of why we are setting up like this.
“Not all the music should be about meri this and meri that; we should sing really good things, positive things about our country. We can record secular bands and gospel bands,” Mogu says.
“I met Roni last year when I used to call him Mr String Band. Roni used to bring me up and down from UOG.
“Roni is the obscure face behind all the popularity and success of recording, producing, duplicating CDs and going out of his way to fund the bands.
“People like Roni are really important behind the curtain people so when I was in Goroka he came up and mentioned three things; a music studio, a music school and a public address system for hire and told me to talk to my wife. I said I don’t have to talk to her as we’ve been praying for years for these things.
“So what’s the name that we can used to call the studio? Roni asked.
“I said let’s choose a name that doesn’t sound too technical, we have to balance. Let’s say something that’s traditional, something that our people can relate to whether young or old, something they know.
The pair then settled for the conch shell, an instrument that is used by nearly all provinces, especially during singsings. And the name was pidginised to konsel, hence Konsel Productions.
The conch shell represents something from the coast and Papua New Guinea as a whole and it is very popular, Mogu said.
“And this is the explanation for the concept; white people beat their brass into trumpets, Israelites get the shofar from the ram’s horn and blow it and for us PNG it’s the conch shell when you want to make an important statement, feast or traditional ceremony we always blow the conch shell,” Mogu explains.
“We can record important messages and gospel bands, music that is seen as not important here now but which we see as really important. We’re going to record traditional music too, string band, gospel, PNG traditional, contemporary and secular music.
“What we want to do is to record string bands and push them into the mainstream where the radios can play their music. We want string band music to cut its way back into the popular arena where we once enjoyed it.
“When I was growing up I listened to Calypso, Gudai Meros, Memehusa which came into being a power band, BB Kings, Paramana Strangers, Eroro Nataba and of course these guys now we are recording, Hornets of Asisi. We can name all string bands we grew up with and got inspired.
“So that’s our experience and looking back we have gone too far out from our roots and promote guys that are more outside and western. It seems like we are producing music just for air play and to be on the charts.
“Music is a very communal thing around PNG, like there are songs for gardening, for playing and so forth. We can enjoy music as it is.
“Of course there’s money to be made and we need to sell CDs but we shouldn’t put ourselves in that box quickly. We should create a mass to bring that opportunity for this great music to be recorded.
Roni is not always at the front but behind the scenes making it all happen.
“If you happen to be on a canoe, there is somebody at the back of the canoe steering for the canoe to go forward. Basically that’s what I do more with P2-UIF and Voice in the Wind and now more into string band,” he says.
“What Mogu and I are doing now is we just want to revive string bands from where we come from and get the music out to other parts of the country as well. At moment we are recording Hornets of Asisi, one of the famous string bands enjoyed around the country. And the next string band we will record is Eroro Nataba.
“These two string bands were recorded two years ago and now they are recording their second release this year. We also added couple of string bands on our list like Buna Riverside, Kaunajo Seko, and Bokoro String Band.
“These were probably the five big name string bands in Northern province during our childhood days where our fathers were drinking San Migual beer at that time listening to these string bands.
“It’s really a privilege to record this music again and in fact I kept the cassettes of those string bands that my father used to listen to and to this day I still keep the cassettes recorded under the Kalang label. We are recording to preserve the sound. We’re keeping that string band flavor and sounds.
Mogu says they are doing mostly live recording and did not delve into “computer stuff” but were learning the art of mixing really well.
“The studio has modern gear to do recordings. And what is recorded live the same sound will be heard when the bands are playing live.
“I believe we have moved away from that kind of production where musicians are actually playing and in the studio the music is produced and recorded and programmed and when they get out to play live it doesn’t really match but is different.
“We just want young people to start picking up the skills again and of course there’s marrying of modern electronic programmed music and real musicianship. I believe we’ve gone away from the musicianship, the skills and the discipline.
“That is why our young people nowadays are not disciplined because they are not sitting down and learning an instrument and going through the process of discipline and concentration.”

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