VANUATU: Live at Banban - Banban Bamboo Band
Updated: Apr 23
The Banban Bamboo Band demonstrate immense ingenuity on their beautiful bamboo-based bonanza
Plant life contributes to various parts of Vanuatuan culture, from the use of tree vines at Pentecost Island’s world-renowned land diving traditions, to the popularity of the kava plant whose root is used to create arguably the nation’s most popular mind-altering drink. Hailing from the largest island in the nation of Vanuatu, called Espiritu Santo, the Banban Bamboo Band are somewhat of a mystery. There is nothing written about them online, all that can be deciphered from a lone video and several of photos of them performing is that they play at resorts on the island, using rather magnificent instruments crafted from bamboo. From percussive instruments to flutes, it seems the entirety of their musical tools are made from the wood-like stems that the bamboo plant produces. It is quite incredible to see how the material that is such an important resource in the daily life of many Vanuatuans, as it is often used to build huts, flooring and mats, whilst it can also be incorporated into other aspects of the culture, namely music.
“The album seems to be recorded in one take and the music is of a high-tempo, always motivating the listener to move his or her body in time with the music.”
The style of group’s performance is difficult to label in terms of a genre but it is close in style to traditional hymn signing. This may well be a consequence of historic interaction with Christian missionaries who came to Melanesia but this is unclear. What is interesting, however, is the use of English in some of the songs. The rather endearing opener, for example, Spirit of Santo is a patriotic song about the island from which the band come from. Whether the decision to sing in English is to appeal to guests on the resorts where they perform is unclear however, the linguistic capabilities of the Melanesian people is one to be admired, as they are considered the most linguistically diverse people group in the world.
Other tracks are sung in Bislama, an English-based creole language spoken in Vanuatu, often have popular Western melodies incorporated into them, which demonstrates a pride in their own culture but also a willingness to accept outside influences. A great example of this is the song Bembemteyo which at one point uses the tune from the popular nursery rhyme ‘The Wheels On The Bus Go Round and Round’. Whilst there is cheeky integration of some Western melodies, that is not to say that there is too much variety within the album in terms of style. The tunes follow broadly the same structure and are driven by an almost constant percussive beat. The first time there is a distinct intro to a tune, earmarking the end of a previous song is on Gen Malaklak which then reverts back to approximately the same rhythm. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the tune is always lovely, but it does perhaps show the limitation of the bamboo-produced instruments.
What is certain about the Banban Bamboo band, though, is that the troupe certainly are full of energy. The album seems to be recorded in one take and the music is of a high-tempo, always motivating the listener to move his or her body in time with the music. One must however be careful to assume that the Banban Bamboo Band are representative of the entire country’s music culture. The diversity of tribes and people groups within the nation, all with their own unique customs are wide-reaching. Nevertheless, the collective certainly do a good job at selling their nation to the rest of the world. From my point of view, the instrumental tracks in particular, such as Sisiva and Christ Our Redeemer, do a fantastic job at introducing a music culture that has its own unique richness to it, demonstrating the ingenuity of the Pacific people.