More than 30 years ago, recording engineer David Fanshawe set out on an adventure — to record the music of the South Pacific. He traveled the South Pacific islands with a rucksack, 200 rolls of tape, 35mm film and a stereo tape recorder.
One of his first stops was a drinking club in the island nation of Tonga. The drink of choice was kava, prepared from the root of a shrub called the pepper plant. On that night in 1978, Fanshawe recorded a traditional love song called “Faikava,“sung by the villagers of Holonga on the island of Vava’U in the Tongan archipelago.
“Faikava Love Song happened late in the night. A few serenaders will go to the club for drinking after everybody’s gone to bed. And it was dark and they sang until dawn. I was part of the group. I was just the recordist, so I was seated on the floor next to the singers and I was just - had my microphones handheld and on my right hand I was recording the actual sound of a carver(ph) being poured. And in the left, I recorded the sound of the voices. But the thing is I was actually seated with them all night.
The ladies would put oil on in their upper arms and so on and garland it with flowers and the strong scent of the frangipani. And, you know, it was a magical time, really. And, see, the village only had a generator that works sort of three or four hours in the evening, but it had been turned off when we started to record.
So I was trying to do my recording with a torch, and the moonlight was pouring through the door. And so we were recording by moonlight,” Fanshawe says.
Below, a translation of “Faikava”:
The dear lily flower is staying behind, but we would be weeping remembering the appearance.
You can please yourself and a select a sweetheart — or somebody who would be your equal, and who might have known you better.
My dear Maile (leaves), I wish that you could read my mind as this romance will drive me crazy.
Alas, poor me. Alas.
I don’t know. How could I be? How could I be?
Fanshawe’s recordings, called Island Music Of The South Pacific were released by Nonesuch in 1981. Reissue called South Pacific: Island Music was released in 2003.