Continuing the love affair with Pacific music, Pacific Break has evolved from a pan-Pacific music competition, with a single winner each year, to now being an active online community and a weekly radio program that provides greater accessibility to original Pacific music and wider exposure for talented Pacific artists.
Using Facebook and the music-sharing website Soundcloud, Pacific Break offers a community for the lovers and makers of Pacific Music to upload and share music from the region.
This, coupled with the added exposure on Australian radio, means Pacific Break is playing a major role in spreading and sharing Pacific music throughout the region.
The person bringing the music to you is Radio Australia broadcaster, Namila Benson.
Tell us a little about yourself?
Growing up in Melbourne (Australia) music played a pivotal role in educating and connecting me with the rest of the world. My folks had a ridiculously broad and extensive music collection, so I grew up listening to lots of Motown soul, blues, reggae, folk, global and through my siblings, I was introduced to a lot of music from the post-punk era of UK. Listening to Casey Kasem on American Top 40 was always a highlight of my week. And imagine my delight when I could still listen to him when we'd take family holidays to my island home, Rabaul in PNG. I have strong musical memories of Mum singing lots of kuanua (native language of Rabaul) hymns and gospel. Church music helped her stay connected to the homeland. To this day, I still have some of my parent's original Islander vinyl records with beautiful harmonies and rhythms from PNG, Tonga, Hawai'i and all across Oceania.
When did your love of music begin?
To be honest, I couldn't pinpoint a time when my love for music began. All I know is that it was always there. From a young age, music and radio are the two constants in my life . I have a distinct memory of being in my village in Rabaul when I was about 5 years old and my Bubu (grandfather) was tuning into the American Top 40 for me on his tinny-sounding transistor radio. I just couldn't get my head around how a humble man in the village was able to connect to news, music and people ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD. But such is the beauty of radio and music. Which continues to this day - and why I'm so excited to be jumping into the hotseat on 'Pacific Break'.
I'm continuing my love of music with my babies. In fact, when pregnant with my kids I made sure to pop headphones on my belly throughout my pregnancies and play music to them in utero. I also made 'Birthing mixtapes' and when my second son was born, he was greeted in his first hour with sounds from across Melanesia and Indigenous Australia. And yes, hip hop was thrown in for good measure too! We constantly have music and radio on in our household but I've created a bit of a monster, as if I'm in the car and I switch off the music, my 2 year old howls - without fail!
What music are you listening to at the moment?
Australia has such an innovative and diverse music scene that features incredible artists hailing from across the Pacific and Asia. I'm a Board member of the Wantok Music Foundation, so I proudly listen to releases from our label: Ngaiire as a fellow wantok sista and her album 'Lamentations' is incredible. I also dig Airileke's album, "Weapon of Choice". They both appeal to me as they push the boundaries of what many would identify as being 'Pacific' music. They mix up hip hop, dubstep, future beats, folk and tap into a range of styles that defy the notion that Islanders are only about reggae.
As wantoks, we're all proud of our Islander heritage, but we're also influenced by a range of different elements which inform and influence our identity and how we choose to engage and represent our cultures. Pacific Break has been a great platform for showcasing the diversity of music, languages and cultures that reside in the region. Melbourne has bands like West Papuan sistas, Tabura, who are great; Samoan vocalist, Kylie Auldist is incredible and I'm also a fan of Maori wahine, Jess Harlen.
My biggest musical love would have to be hip hop and I listen to lots of old soul, early RnB and 70s funk. I'm constantly revisiting my reggae vinyl out of the Soul Jazz Records label.
And in the last few months, I've stumbled across very old recordings of Melanesian music on a number of different ethnomusicology releases. I've always been interested in early recordings by the likes of Alan Lomax, Laura Boulton and others and love that such projects also took place across the Pacific around the same time.
How would you describe the music coming out of the Pacific at the moment?
I don't think you can sum up the sound of the Pacific and that's what I love about Pacific Break. My senses are constantly surprised, constantly challenged and constantly tickled when it comes to hearing what our young people are creating. The energy feels innovative, the lyrics deliver depth and the rhythms can't help but move you. I guess the one term that always comes to mind is CULTURAL PRIDE. Themes that come through the music always seems to be rooted in family, community, culture. The songs generally big up where people are from; whether they're talking love, politics, hanging out with friends or just singing about life generally.
What’s for you is the best thing about working on Pacific Break?
Pacific Break 2014 is taking on a really exciting new direction and I love that it's now a weekly radio show that will broadcast across Australia, as well as to the region. In terms of engaging with Pacific nations, music is a great way people can connect and that's something that's very much at the forefront of my mind when doing this show. I get frustrated with the way Western media often portrays Island life and culture and I'm hoping that through Pacific Break, I can dispel some of the incorrect stereotypes non-Islanders may have about us. Reaching a bigger audience and giving a glimpse into the extraordinary musical talent across Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia is a huge plus for me.
And basically, as a music lover - just being able to hear incredible beats, lyrics and rhythms of my fellow Pacific Islanders.
So get cracking! I can't wait to hear your music and share it on the airwaves!
Pacific Break can be heard each Friday at 4pm Sydney time (4pm PNG, 6pm Fiji, 7pm Samoa) across Radio Australia's FM and shortwave network. it is repeated on Saturday mornings and Sunday evening. Listen to the program again via the program page and Soundcloud.