Music of Oceania – The Abelam of Papua Niugini

The cult house and yam display during yam festival'Music of Oceania' LP cover'Music of Oceania' LP back coverThe Dschame village, 1980'Music of Oceania' side 1

01 Drum Calls For The Slit Drums (1:05)
02 Drum Signal (1:20)
03 Men’s Song (1:59)
04 Antiphony To The Ancestral Spirits (2:52)
05 Nocturnal Song I (4:00)
06 Nocturnal Song II (3:43)
07 Introductory Song To A Speech (:53)
08 Concluding Song I (2:03)
09 Concluding Song II (2:07)
10 Ocarinas And Bamboo Flutes (1:24)
11 Antiphony For Initiation (2:41)
12 Men’s Song For Initiation Rite (4:16)
13 Dance Song Preceding The Yam Festival (1:28)
14 Men’s Song for Yam Festival I (2:55)
15 Men’s Song for Yam Festival II (2:14)
16 Men’s Song For The Ancestral Spirit (1:57)
17 Men’s Song At A Death Ritual (1:59)
18 Songs At A Wake I (2:20)
19 Songs At A Wake II (2:00)

Total time 43:10
LP released by Musicaphon, Disco-Center, Kassel, West Germany, [1983?]

Nothing can prepare you to New Guinea’s ethnic music. The fact it is not much circulated doesn’t help either. Before I go any further, I shall notice these recordings are either initiation, ceremonial or sacred events, and shouldn’t be considered merely as music, or worse, entertainment. Nevertheless, I will discuss their sonic properties only. The Abelam are a tribe from North of the Sepik River and south of the Prince Alexander Mountains, in North-Eastern Papua New Guinea. The recordings were made by Brigitta Hauser-Schaublin in 1978-83, with a few tracks recorded by Professor Dr. Gerd Koch in 1966, both German ethnomusicologists working on Swiss funding. Here’s how the liner notes describe the record: ‘Side A [tr.#1-10] consists of drum signals, songs and instrumental music connected with the erection and inauguration of a ceremonial house. Side B has excerpts from songs (some with instrumental accompaniment) performed at yam festivals and rites of passage’ [liner notes, introduction to The Recordings chapter]. The Abelam’s music combine microtonal, minimal percussion on hourglass and slit drums, and choir chant, often in antiphony style, that is, alternating male and female voices. Typically, the drums will perform long accelerandos, leading the singers in parallel glissandos.

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11 Responses to “Music of Oceania – The Abelam of Papua Niugini”

  1. 1 Lucky November 6, 2009 at 9:38 pm

    wonderful share, continuo! listened to field recordings myself recently, mainly from pygmees of central africa – but that’s at another part of the world. the nearest i got to new guinea was the island of sulawesi some years ago – heard a special funeral ritual there, but didn’t have a recorder with me on the trip.

  2. 2 continuo November 6, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    Oh yeah, I remember once in Luxemburg . . . but that’s an other story. I’m impressed by your creds, Lucky. Bloggers are supposed to be nerds who never go away from their computer.

  3. 3 Lucky November 7, 2009 at 12:16 am

    oh, i’m sorry if i made the wrong impression, continuo – i AM a nerd, and if possible, rarely leave my dearest machine here. but on the other hand i also have the funny ideal that living first hand is a tiny bit more exciting than surfing the web and sitting in front of plastic objects.

    i only got once to indonesia, some years ago, and i travelled south-east asia for about 10 months. most dense time. i wanna do it it again, but …

    p.s.: lucky you, i never came as far as luxembourg. i got lost on the way to the nearest boulangerie. ;)

  4. 4 continuo November 7, 2009 at 12:24 am

    I sometimes go to concerts with a minidisc recorder, but does that count me as an explorer, I wonder. Thanks for the good laugh, Lucky.

  5. 5 Lucky November 7, 2009 at 2:21 am

    continuo – i’d say you already explore when you go out of your home, even more if you go to concerts. and the fact that you take your md-recorder with you, makes you s’thing of an urban field engineer – it all depends on what YOU tape, not what THEY play on top of the stage.

    what i mean is – do you know the famous “The Roxy London WC2 (Jan-Apr 77)” record? it’s a live artifact of some of the first british punk bands, and this record not only captures the performances, but also the incredible atmosphere, we hear talking, screams, glass shattering, laughs, sometimes for a few minutes while there’s something going on at the stage, but far away. it’s rearranged, of course – but it doesn’t make it less original. every photo or recording is subjective, and if you want it to be, it can be art. or junk, if you prefer.

    a good laugh is always intended. thanks for hopping on.


  6. 6 Luxor November 8, 2009 at 11:37 pm

    Hello mister, sorry but english it’s not my native language. I have a doubt, the recordings were made between 1978-1983, but the album was released in 1980, three years before recordings finished. ?

  7. 7 continuo November 9, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Gosh, you’re right, this doesn’t make any sense. Even the photos on the cover were made in 1983. I can’t even say where I found the 1980 date. The record itself offers no clue. Thanks for signaling the confusion, Luxor.

  8. 8 matthew December 12, 2010 at 5:10 am


    anyway to mediafire this guy? i’m trying super hard to find a copy of this but can’t anywhere – sharebee link is broken.


  9. 9 continuo December 12, 2010 at 9:46 am


  10. 10 matthew December 12, 2010 at 6:27 pm


    i have the middle sepik and samoan music sets in this music of oceania series if you’re interested, but i’ve heard that this abelam lp is the best.

    going to listen now, thanks again.

  11. 11 continuo December 12, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    I’d be interested indeed by other volumes in the series, but I might need good pictures/scans of the cover.

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