Narasirato. Say it out loud: Na-ra-si-ra-to. Then picture a kind of bamboo orchestra, hammering polyrhythms from log drums and ‘stomping tubes’ and blasting away on giant pan pipes; a sound the London Evening Standard called ‘punchy, distinctive and full of energy’, that the Observer newspaper deemed ‘funky and bluesy, with a reggae pulse and tracks that rock out’.
Abandon all stereotypes: anyone who has seen their spectacular live show, or heard their acclaimed 2012 debut Warato’o – an album made with the support of Strummerville, the Joe Strummer Foundation for New Music – will know to expect the unexpected. Sunshine aside, that is: right from their first international show in Japan in 2010, and for the dozens of festivals including Glastonbury and Roskilde they have played since then, Narasirato have stopped the rain, cleared the skies and seen the sun shine through each and every set.
Narasirato, by the way, means ‘cry for sunshine’ in the Are’are language of these Solomon Islanders. Magic? Coincidence? Make of it what you will; as far as this sprawling collective of musicians is concerned, everything is a result of Warato’o, the belief system of the Are’are people of Malaita Province, a remote corner of the Solomon Islands, lying east of Papua New Guinea and northwest of Vanuatu. A paradise in the Pacific.
“Warato’o is truth, love and friendship,” says Donation Manuasi, musical director of Narasirato, who live and work as farmers and fishermen in Oterama, a hibiscus-strewn hamlet of thatched huts surrounded by pristine rainforest. “It means the ‘little seed of goodness in everything’,” he adds. “Wherever we are, we live by that.”
Unfortunately, others don’t. Right across the Solomons the frantic pace and mismanagement of the logging industry has seen regional and international organisations warn successive Solomon Islands governments of its negative effects.
“Climate change and rising sea levels, along with logging and mining, are threatening our environment and our society,” Manuasi says. “We want people to know what’s happening.”
Welcome, then, Inoni Ana Totoraha. ‘Man of culture’. A sophomore album fired by the confidence that comes from two world tours and unanimous acclaim; from wowing tens of thousands at festivals including Sziget, WOMAD and Fuji Rock as well as Glastonbury and Roskilde; from watching everyone from indie-kids and metalheads to world music fans wigging out to Narasirato’s feel good grooves.
From a pride in who they are and where they live, and in a musical tradition that stretches back generations.
Produced by the band’s manager, Jason Mayall (son of the British blues legend John Mayall), mixed by UK dub master Nick Manasseh and recorded in four days with a mighty 17-strong line-up in the Oterama Village Culture House with the support of Australia’s RØDE Microphones, Inoni Ana Totoraha is set to blow expectations out of the lagoon once again.
13 effortlessly brilliant tracks showcase the band’s trademark mix of sweet vocal harmonies, soaring pan pipes and heavy acoustic rhythm and bass. Deeply spiritual odes to nature, tradition and the ancestors vie and blend with contemporary concerns and influences: Narasirato have been privy to live sets by everyone from Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry to Iron Maiden on their world travels, and their idiosyncratic takes are reflected here.
There’s history: founded in 1991 in Honiara, the World War II-battered capital on the island of Guadalcanal, the Narasirato Panpipe Association were unofficial cultural ambassadors for the Solomons, wheeled out at official ceremonies in Taiwan, the UK and New Zealand and hitting the No.1 spot on ABC Asia Pacific’s top ten with ‘My Culture Is My Life’ (one of the few songs they sing in English).
The group disbanded in 1999 when the so-called Tensions – a period of extreme civil unrest – pulled them back to Malaita. When they reformed in 2008 they chose their line-up largely from Oterama; recorded at the iconic Fuji Rock Festival in 2010, their live EP Tangio Tumas (‘Thankyou Very Much’ in Pidgin) won them critical praise. Their first full-length studio release Warato’o broke stereotypes, drew doubletakes. None of which would have been possible without the support of two influential former members: the Hon. John Maneniaru, now MP for West Are’are, and the Narasirato Association President, John Bosco Houanihau.