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WORLD AND FOLK MUSIC NEWS
Techung opening for His Holiness The Dalai Lama
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Focus on: Music of the South Seas
The majority of music of the South Seas is from islands within Polynesia. Geographically, Polynesia is a group of island chains spread across much of the Pacific Ocean, and includes many countries and territories. It technically includes all the islands within a triangle with its corners at Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island.
The other main island groups located within the Polynesian triangle are Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islandsm French Polynesia and Niue. Polynesian island groups outside the triangle include Tuvalu, the French territory of Wallis and Futuna, and some of the Fijian islands. Although these do not fall geographically within the defined borders, they have strong Polynesian character and are commonly considered as part of the collective. There are also small Polynesian enclaves in Papua New Guinea, the Solomons and in Vanuatu.
Song and dance are integral parts of the same cultural elements throughout Polynesia. In action songs, dance is used to illustrate the lyrics by moving the hands or arms; some dances are performed seated. Traditionally, dance moves do not illustrate the song's narrative, but rather draw attention to specific words and themes; in modern times, however, dances are more often explicitly narrative in their focus. There are also traditional dances performed without lyrics, to the accompaniment of percussive music.
Within songs, the lyrics are by far more important than the melodic accompaniment, which has been sometimes changed to Western pop music structures in modern times. Elements like rhythm, melody, harmony and dance are traditionally viewed as accompaniment to the primary focus, the lyrics, serving to embellish, illustrate and decorate the words. Indeed, a song sung to traditional melody is considered no more Polynesian than the same song sung to a modern imported melody.
The most important instrument is the voice, though multiple varieties of slit drum and conch shells are also popular. The human body is used as an instrument, with clapping and knee-slapping used to accompany songs and dances. Other instruments include the pandanus, which is part of a plant that's made into a sitting mat and that is also used as a percussion instrument, clapping sticks, stamping tubes and nose flutes.