June 11, 2012

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

June 2, 2012 Palikir, Pohnpei, FSM- In celebration of Australia's Reconciliation Week, the Australian Embassy to the FSM partnered with local radio station, Paradise Radio (V6W1 FM 89.5) to put on its first ever music and dance festival in Pohnpei. Admission was free to the public and it was a "family friendly event. Attendees could also get free t-shirts from the event.

The Australian Reconciliation Music Festival was scheduled to begin at noon and it did but the power went out at the COM National Campus gymnasium and organizers were left scrambling for two hours in order to entertain the crowd while PUC did its job. Organizers had adults and children shoot free throws to win T-Shirts while the power was out. Despite the late start the event ended at 8:00 in the evening as scheduled.

Sam Upritchard, First Secretary and Consul at the Australian Embassy in Pohnpei spoke to the audience as the festival finally got under way. He explained the purpose of the event:

"Each year at the end of May, Australia celebrates National Reconciliation Week which builds on the respectful relationships shared by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians. The week-long celebration is an ideal opportunity for all Australians to explore ways to join the national reconciliation effort. This year's theme is Let's Talk Recognition.

"Reconciliation involves building positive and respectful relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians; enabling us to work together to close the gaps, and to achieve a shared sense of fairness and justice. The ultimate goal of reconciliation is to build strong and trusting relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians, as a foundation for success and to enhance our national wellbeing.

"Now you've heard a little about reconciliation, let's talk recognition. Recognition comes in all sorts of ways and means different things to different people; but it's something we all like to receive. Since Europeans began settling in Australia more than 220 years ago, the first Australians have often been treated unfairly by other Australians. The lack of recognition and understanding still inhibits some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from feeling valued within the Australian community.

"The First Australians should have proper recognition, not only for their cultural longevity and resilience but for their continued contribution to Australia's national identity. Recognition is an important step in the reconciliation journey and events like National Reconciliation Week can provide a focus for all Australians to reflect on reconciliation and to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures.

"Here in the Federated States of Micronesia, we wanted to share this part of our culture with you. Like Australia, the FSM is a diverse country, made up of people from many different places with different languages and different cultures. These are differences that should be celebrated, and that's what this music festival is about - celebrating your culture, your languages, and your local artists. We hope that you all enjoy this celebration of culture and that you've learned a little more about your neighbors in Australia."

During Reconciliation Week, Paradise Radio included indigenous Australian music in the play list on their radio station and ran Australian Embassy provided informational recordings for several weeks regarding the Reconciliation Event.

William Hoffman of Paradise Media said that the seven staff members of Paradise radio and almost a dozen volunteers helped to make the show run smoothly. There were a few incidents. One woman was taken to hospital suffering from stomach pains. One child also had to be taken to the hospital when he stepped on a rusty nail in the grandstand at the gymnasium where seats had been removed.

Otherwise there were no serious mishaps. Sokehs Police provided security supported by Paradise Medias own private security team.

"It was stressful making sure that things ran the way they were supposed to run but all in all it was an excellent day. Most of the musicians were in good spirits and excited to play before the crowd," Hoffman said.

Hoffman, who goes under the stage name DJ Bliz@, and Chris Johnson acted as DJ's throughout the day and Chris Johnson provided much of the sound gear and monitored sound levels all day.

Several "dance crews" from U that together form a "super crew" call E.Y.E. performed throughout the day in between music performances. They came together as one group to compete in the Break Dance Battle.

The first musical performer was "The Panuelos" featuring 12 year old Jenna Panuelo's pure and mellow voice accompanied by excellent mellow slack key type guitar work. The group played four or five songs.

Dano Benian was up next and played the Chuukese local music for which he is famous. He was scheduled to play for an hour but played only four songs. He asked the writer of this article to sit in on guitar with him as he has done many times in the past, though he had never heard the songs

Benian performed until the moment they began.

Local favorite Jackie Smith also sang four or five songs accompanied for part of her set by the Panuelos. One of the songs, accompanied by Dano Benian brought at least one brave dancer up from the crowd to the delight of the audience who laughed, screamed, and cheered.

Dano Benian jumped back up on stage and brought his 10 year old daughter Levita with him to perform one song. The crowd went nuts and rightly so. Her musical performance was nothing short of astounding and most of us could easily have listened to her for the rest of the day. She riffed effortlessly in perfect pitch and her voice was silky. Hoffman called her the future of music in Pohnpei but this long time musician thinks that she is the present. There is no reason in the world that she should not be recording. She has places to go and all of the right talent to get anywhere she wants to be. She was and is exactly that kind of good!

Almost, but not quite reluctantly our band "Wetter Than Seattle" consisting of Ross Perkins on acoustic guitar, Steve Finnen on bass guitar, Nigel Jaynes (also of Paradise Radio) on drums, and the writer of this article on lead guitar and vocals were next to hit the stage. We were scheduled for an hour and we slammed from classic rock song to classic rock song in an effort to provide a high energy rock and roll set. The crowd was gracious and as a reward we cut two songs from our set list. An hour of "in your face" classic rock music is a lot to listen to for an audience whose tastes run more along the lines of reggae and hip hop. Still, some of the older audience members appreciated the set and particularly our version of "Sweet Home Alabama" with lyrics rewritten specifically for the FSM. When the set was over we ran off the stage leaving the audience wanting more-or not.

PNI Nation had been scheduled to take the 5:00 headline spot but their representatives said that not enough money was involved and they canceled with less than a week to go before the festival. Gaily and Ronnex who have a good number of locally popular songs gladly and admirably stepped into the position and sang four of their original tunes to the delight of the audience many of whom sang along.

Unfortunately, since the break dance contest was so high energy the audience thought that was the end of the show and many of them left missing one of the highlights of the evening. Artists known as Blaze, Ryda, I-Rootz and DJ Bliz@ performed a hook laden original tune entitled "My Roots Is on Fire." The reggae hip hop song was completed and recorded only the night before the Music Festival at Blaze's (Arnold Panuelo's) home recording studio. It was a special tune by a talented group of artists and I can't imagine why it wouldn't catch on and I'm not even a fan of that particular style of music.

Once again I missed out on the break dance competition and have to rely on the description of it by William Hoffman who wrote, "The Break Dance battle was the most celebrated part of the music festival with sounds of cheers and screams heard in all corners of the COM-FSM Gym. The Battle was underway at 7:00 PM with the first battle between the Nan Pohn Mal Villains and the mixed crew JNP (2 of JNP's members were part of the Mapusi crew who won Music Box 2012. ) The heavily Nanpohnmal crowd chose the Villains as winners of the first battle.

"JNP remained on the floor to face the Super Crew from U, E.Y.E. This time the crowd chose JNP as the winners and they earned the right to face off against the Villains in the championship battle. The Villains commanded the most noise from the crowd and they were crowned the winners of the break dance battle at this year's Music festival.

"The winners of music box 2012, the Mapusi crew have already challenged the Villains to a dance off at a later date to determine who deserves Pohnpei's break dancing crown.

"'We are ready for any crew who wants to face us. These kids are smart and they work hard to be the best. They are saving their $100 cash prize to start a general fund for the advancement of the crew,' The Villains Dance Crew manager, Carnis Sultan said." Paradise Media wants to thank R.S. Roque Commercial Arts who did an outstanding job printing the t-shirts at an excellent price. Nigel Jaynes of Paradise Media did all of the layout work on all promotional materials including banners, posters, fliers, t-shirt designs and a limited number of "I support local music" buttons.

Congratulations to Paradise Media and to the Australian Embassy for a well done first time event.