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Small Island Big Song
Songlines from the Indian and Pacific Oceans

Review by Tom Orr

Count me among those who know climate change is a genuine threat to humanity, and not some hoax dreamed up to undermine our values (or whatever deniers 'believe'). Once producers Tim Cole and Bao Bao Chen learned how potentially damaging climate change could be to the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions of Earth’s southern hemisphere, they set about compiling an album’s worth of fused music from those areas, so that the musical connections binding the whole could be spotlighted and raise awareness.

It was in Australia, where such connections are known as songlines, that the idea came about. The interestingly packaged and impressively diverse 18 tracks of Small Island Big Song are the result of Cole and Chen’s labors, and the oceanic songlines they present will fill your ears with some of the most heartfelt and evocative sounds imaginable. Most of the more than 30 artists involved are new to me, so while your results may vary, this disc is likely to come across as a succession of delightful discoveries.

There’s a lot going on here, so much so that any attempt at comprehensively describing the music would be a textbook exercise in futility. Much of it has the traditional feel of what “island” music would be expected to sound like, but there are contemporary leanings that take things further. The songs themselves blend instruments and voices from locales that may be distant geographically, all the same sharing sonic traits that point the songlines in similar directions. Traditional music of one place usually forms the basis, and when sounds from elsewhere are blended in, the completed connections are fairly bursting with creative joy.

Alena Murang, Malaysia

Everything from water percussion to rapping is employed by musicians representing Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, Taiwan, Borneo, Tahiti, Madagascar, Easter Island, Bali, Bougainville (Papua New Guinea), Hawaii, Vanuatu, Malaysia and the Solomon Islands. Impassioned choruses are joined with polyrhythmic beats, meditative passages cool the pace between songs tailor-made for dancing, indigenous instruments support modern sensibilities and vice versa, and all 74 minutes of the album sound like one very big, very happy family doing what they do best while helping get the word out on a most serious issue.

There are extensive, nicely illustrated liner notes to explain it all, and here’s hoping this most remarkable lineup of “small island mixes” (which never sound forced or contrived) opens a multitude of ears and minds. - Tom Orr


There is a wealth of information about all the artists and countries involved in this project at Small Island Big Song. It inlcudes text, audio, some stunning video and photographs.

There are also a lot of "process" video, on how the project was made, on their YouTube channel.

All audio and images are ©2018 Small Island Big Song, Ltd



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