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Globalization, Music and Cultural Identity in Contemporary Vanuatu

This article was created to accompany a text that appeared in the edited volume entitled “Music and Globalization:  Critical Encounters” (Indiana University Press, 2012).

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Bolton (1999) explores the modern ni-Vanuatu notion of kastom and the manner in which it has developed through – and in interrelation with – oral history projects, radio and the activities of the Vanuatu Kaljural Senta and offers a definition of kastom as “practices understood to derive from the pre-colonial past” (1999: 335). William Miles concurs but qualifies this further, deeming the term to refer to a set of diverse indigenous practices that were recently re-conceptualised as an aggregate in order “to incarnate indigenous cultural authenticity in opposition to colonialism” (ibid: 59).

—Philip Hayward

Around 1960, prior to the introduction of radio broadcasting in The New Hebrides, a shortly weekly programme of topical items was compiled by three French residents in Port Vila for broadcast through Radio Noumea (in the French colony of Nouvelle Caledonie – known in English as New Caledonia) and was able to be picked up by radio receivers in the New Hebrides.

The program included local music and stories and was introduced each week by a short song, entitled ‘Kavelicolico’ sung in local language by its Ifira Island composer. Bolton notes that the song was so popular that “the program was known, and is remembered, as Radio Kavelicolico” (ibid, 339).

Received best in the north and central parts of the archipelago, the service was a significant promulgator of a nascent national identity (albeit within a francophone language frame) and was also significant for the diffusion of stringband music.

—Philip Hayward

For ni-Vanuatu, contact with Americans in 1942-45 offered an alternative model of both the benefits of engagement with westerners and of the nature of inter-racial relations in general.

—Philip Hayward

By the early 1960s stringband music was widely performed in informal social contexts around Port Vila, various parts of Shefa province (ie central Vanuatu) and, according to some reports,in the national ‘second city’ of Luganville (on Espiritu Santo). In many ways, with its pan-regional musical style and appeal, stringband music provided a new vernacular music for displaced islanders around Port Vila and, by association, New Hebrideans as a whole.

—Philip Hayward

Given the limited access to electricity outside Port Vila – let alone computers or internet file sharing networks – the local industry’s engagement with national and international markets has primarily been through more traditional products and transactions.

—Philip Hayward


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