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Music Planet: Andy Kershaw Keeps His Head

by Roger Short, Producer, Music Planet , BBC Radio 3

Andy Kershaw with the Kwaio gilo stones players on the Solomon Islands

In March this year, on his first trip for Music Planet, presenter Andy Kershaw visited the Solomon Islands. This was the most remote area either of us had ever been to, so we decided we really should find some people – and music – that were as far away from western culture, particularly the influence of the Christian missionaries, as possible.  So we took a small plane to a grass runway on Malaita Island, drove in a truck for two hours, took a boat along the coast for an hour, and finally reached a village of the Kwaio people. Even here  a church and a school awaited us.  But after a three-hour steep trek up a mountain, we arrived at the remote Kwaio villages which still follow animist culture.  They weren’t exactly geared up for visitors, so our team of five (including engineer James Birtwistle, plus local guide and interpreter) all slept together in a tiny hut on stilts.  Dinner was a cauldron of boiled potatoes.  Fortunately the music more than made up for it. 

Recording the Kwaio musicians on the Solomon Islands

First we heard the music of the ‘gilo stones’ – two players with bamboo sticks in hands and feet, knocking them on smooth stones in complex rhythmic patterns that Steve Reich would be proud of. Then the head of the village sat in a circle with four other men, gently beating out a rhythm with sticks, and first humming, then chanting an epic song. They later told us it was about the murder of a former British Governor who had tried in vain to impose taxes on the Kwaio.  Andy asked them if they were former head-hunters.  They queried the word ‘former’ – ‘we do reserve the right’, the chief said, ‘if it became necessary…’  No further challenging questions were asked.

Dale Templar, Human Planet, Series Producer says:

I can’t wait to listen to “Music Planet”.  It  is the BBC Radio 3 sister series that will accompany “Human Planet” when it transmits in the UK early in 2011.  The Music Planet” team have been travelling around the world recording music from people all the different environments we have been to on the main series but in some cases they  have visited different tribes and groups of people.

One Response to “Music Planet: Andy Kershaw Keeps His Head”

  1. sociosound says:

    Sounds like such a great experience.. if y’all are ever in need of interns, let me know! As an ethnomusicology grad student, I’d love to tag along on something like that!

    [email protected]

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