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Bamboo Bands


Roviana Festival, Munda


Pictures of Bamboo Bands at Roviana Festival, Munda


By Richard Moore

I have had a lot of great surprises in the Solomon Islands, but the best one to date has to be being introduced to bamboo bands.

I had absolutely no idea what a bamboo band was, or how it worked, until covering the annual Roviana Festival in Munda, Western Province.

The festival is a great gathering where sports, culture and music combine to celebrate the Solomoness of people in the region.

The promise of lavish tamoko, or war canoes, to photograph lured me back to the Hapi Islands just before Christmas.

I knew it was going to be hot, but sometimes even being forewarned does not help.

It was very hot and sultry. Even the locals were feeling the heat and all marvelled at the European bloke who carried heavy camera gear around for hours in the conditions.

Still, the thoughts of the war canoes kept me cool until I was informed that - due to a dispute - they would not be arriving. All I had to photograph was a kid's dug out canoe ...

Oh well, there has to be something else.

And there was.

In the distance I heard this strange sound with an instantly grabbing rhythm. What the heck is that and headed in the direction of the sound.

And there they were, just on sunset, a bamboo band practising for the next day's competition.

Let me describe it.

Imagine an elastic percussiony sound with an addictive beat that makes it impossible to not tap your feet, or hands or, in my case, get a little dance going. And for me dancing is something that is only usually done after the direst insistance of my beloved lady.

I'd never heard it before but, within seconds, bamboo music was my thing. I swear to God it was that quick.

Add in guitars and high-pitched singing and it is a combination that would have Simon Cowell saying "wow."

Now the thing about bamboo bands is that they are not that mobile.

I mean they would never be included in marching bands.

The signature instrument - the bamboo elasticky-sound thingy - is huge.

There are three decks of seven hollowed out bamboo pipes, which range in length from about 1.5m to 3m. Fabulous yes, moveable no.

It may be hollow but there is a heck of a lot of weight in those tubes.

I just so wanted to get hold of an improvised mallet and start making music.

What was the mallet? A cleverly re-styled piece of coconut husk.

Unfortunately I didn't get the opportunity to get groovy during the competition but, months later on the isolated island of Santa Catalina, I did.

It was at the end of the Wogasia Festival where bamboo pipes were replaced by plastic plumbinbg tubes and the coconut husks by thye bottomns of flip-flops.

I asked a tour guide if it were possioble to join the band and he asked if I had experience.

"No," I confessed and he rather rudely said the same.

So I went to the band itself and asked if I could give it a go. One drummer said "yes" with a huge grin.

Righto, what do I hit? He showed me the basics and away I went.

It was fantastic and everyone said I did a terrific job. It was one of the best feelings I've had.

So just who won the Roviana Festival bamboo bands competition? I have it written down somewhere but, in my opinion, it doesn't matter.

The winners are everybody who competed because they create joy. And what more could anyone want?

Other than a CD, of course.

- Richard Moore


Copyright 2014 RICHARD MOORE