Bai er a Meketii

Today’s song — Bai er a Meketii — is partly a place-celebratory song, but also tells the story of a man’s exile from and return to his community.  It is place-celebratory in that it initially celebrates the Bai er a Meketii, the main meeting house in Koror.  At the end of the song, it expands the list of places where you can get your life back on track to two other bais in Koror: the Bai er a Ngerkeseuaol and the Bai er a Ngerbachesis.

I think this is a song from the 1940s, but only by the context of the lyrics.  I asked Suki Rengchol and he said that the song is very old, but he didn’t remember anyone other than Tres doing this song.  According to one of the song books I have, it was composed by “Y. Yaoch,” [1]. Felix Okabe clarified that for me [3] and said the composer was Teteo Yaoch, Tresa’s uncle.

I only have a single historical recording of this song, done by Tres Rdulaol on her 1989 cassette “Klechi Belau.”  I don’t have any information on who played on this recording.

Bai ra Meketii, Tres Rdulaol, 1989.

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Ringelel a Chesebreng

Julie Tatengelel Aichi

Today’s song was another big hit for Julie Tatengelel Aichi in the 60’s.  It is a such a great song and what is quite amazing to me is that no one, among today’s Palauan artists, seems to be covering this song.  Besides Julie’s recording, I can find only two other versions, and those are rather old.  I don’t know when the song was written or by whom, so any information on that would be welcome.  A note in Cisca Soaladaob’s song book [1] indicates that it came from “Itsko,” which could be that it was written by Itsko or originated from him/her.

The lyric to the song is well crafted, with the first two lines asking the listener “you have known the pain, haven’t you?  You know, the pain of heartbreak [ringelel a chesebreng]?  Then the singer tells his/her story.

Let’s listen to Julie Tatengelel Aichie singing it on her 1998 CD entitled “Echoes of the ’60s.”  The musicianship is very good on this recording, with Tio Koichi on keyboards and guitar and Toshi K. Higa on bass.

Ringelel a Chesebreng, Julie Tatengelel Aichi, 1989.

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A Diall a Mlei

A Diall a Mlei [1]

Last Spring, I had the chance to sit down with Felix Okabe to talk about Palauan music and play some songs together.  Not a bad way to spend the afternoon.  When he asked me to play some American songs, I sang one of my favorites, a song the Stanley Brothers made famous entitled “Rank Stranger,” a song about going back home after a long absence to find that no one there remembers you and all of your friends and family have passed on.  I asked Felix if there were any songs like that in Palauan music and the one he thought of that had a similar theme (although not exactly parallel) is the song known as “Techobei” or “A Diall a Mlei.”  Techobei is now known as Hatohobei (formerly known as Tobi), an island in the Southwest Islands of Palau.  This is a song where someone’s child must suddenly leave on the ship going from Malakal to Hatohobei, what is known as the field-trip ship, and the mother crying and wandering aimlessly from Desekel to Meyungs and either returning or disappearing, depending on whose lyrics you follow. The mother is worried that her child will die before she has a chance to see the child again.

I’ve been told several stories to explain this song. You decide which is correct (or better yet, if someone knows, please comment)

  • There was a man from Echang and a woman from Meyungs who married and had a child.  The marriage didn’t work out and so the man from Echang decided to leave to Hatohobei and take their child.  The mother was horrified at the prospect of never seeing her child again.  In this case, the ship that came carried the child away from the mother.
  • The child was actually a grown man who had died in Hatohobei and the old mother had been informed by radio.  This ship arriving in Malakal was carrying the child’s body.  This story seems unlikely, as the ship was leaving to Hatohobei, not coming from Hatohobei (e remiid er a Techobei)

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Olidoid a Beluu

Te mlo el mo olidoid a banderang

Today’s song is an untitled chelitakl [singing song], recorded in 1936 by Muranushi in Ngeremlengui [1].  It celebrates a military victory by Japan over Russia, in either the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05 or possibly one of many border skirmishes between Japan and the Soviet Union between 1932 and 1936, when this song was recorded. The song also describes the Japanese/Palauan relationship as this singer saw it in the mid-1930s, and possibly the singer’s hope that the “olidoid a beluu” [changing countries] was now at an end.  How wrong he ended up being.

The song is described in Muranushi’s notes as being “performed as a war song” and noting that “the text of this chant is recited.” During his field study, Muranushi collected Palauan terms for the different chants and songs and defined the term “chelitakl” as “songs for a sitting dance, sung by old women.”  However, Tatar’s publication also states that Muranushi did not classify any of the collected songs as derebechesiil or chelitakl, and that these classifications were added later by Maria Otto, the Palauan who translated the lyrics for the collection. [1]

Here is the recording of the chelitakl:

Untitled Chelitakl, Unidentified Male Singer, 1936

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Tungelbai Band

The Angaur Boys Club (ABC Band) is said to have been one of the first organized bands in Palau, starting in the late 1950s.  The ABC Band famously performed in Koror at the Kebtot el Bai in the late 1950s and also performed in many of the villages in Palau.  The ABC Band was soon followed by the Friday Night Club, which was formed by Aichi Ngirchokebai in Koror in the early 1960s and included Neterio Henry and Kyosi Ngirangol from the ABC Band.  The Friday Night Club also visited many of the villages in Palau as a part of entertainment nights that included movies, music and dance.  These performances began to influence musicians in the other villages to start their own bands.  When the staff of the Ngerel Belau radio station began to record Palauan musicians in 1963, they captured the sounds of these bands including the Tungelbai band (Aimeliik), the Lucky 7 Band (Ngiwal), the Sunrise Band (Ngermid), the Olbedekall Club (Airai), etc.  Today, I will take a close look at the Tungelbai band based on interviews I conducted in March 2018 with Suki Rengchol and Cisca Yalap Soaladaob and a follow-up interview with Suki this week.  I would like to thank both of these new friends for their warm hospitality and openness to sharing their stories.

The current Bai er a Keai at Aimeliik,
home of the Tungelbai Band

The Tungelbai band from Aimeliik consisted of musicians Tem Obakerbau (mandolin and guitar), Jose (mandolin and guitar), Suki Rengchol (guitar), Akiwo Ngiratechekii (violin) and Isao Ngirababul (guitar).  Suki also remembered that the band had a person playing a home-made bass with a single string.  The singers included Baul Dakubong, Cisca Yalap, Monica Kiueluul, Jemmy Blelai, Ngirur Malsol and Kyota Dengokl.  The band took its name from the god of the village of Aimeliik, Tungelbai, at the suggestion of Jonathon O. Emul, who arranged for these early recordings.  Tungelbai was not a band, in the sense of an organized group playing a regular set of gigs, but rather was more of a multi-generational collection of musicians and singers from Aimeliik, reflecting the sounds that would have been heard at informal gatherings in the village.

Baurie Oingerang and the Ngerel Belau staff did five different recording sessions with the Tungelbai band between 1963 and 1965.  We only have ten recordings remaining of those (and if anyone has the missing recordings hidden in their house, please share them with the rest of us).  The recordings we have show the influence of Ymesei Ezekiel on those sessions, where he picked out the songs for the singers — many which he had composed — and directed the musicians on how to play their parts.

In this article I will discuss what I know about each of the musicians and singers of the Tungelbai band and present the recordings from the early 1960s. Please feel free to comment and correct or add to the information I’ve collected.

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Mengesang a Reng

Mengesang a Reng el Anata [the troubled heart who is my sweetheart] is an old song that tells the story of the pain that two lovers can bring to each other when their relationship is broken off.  Pain that perhaps might even cause one to become permanently depressed or troubled.  This song was composed some time prior to 1963, although I suspect that it is very old, based on the song’s time signature.  I was told during my 2018 trip to Palau by several people that it was composed by Jonathan (Yonat) Meluat, but someone also said that Abai Ochip actually composed the song for Yonat.  Both Yonat and Abai were from Airai.

The earliest recording I have is from October 1963, when Barbara Smith, a musicologist from the University of Hawaii, came to Palau and recorded a number of Palauan music performances.  This recording comes from a trip she took to Kayangel, where she recorded an evening of matamatong dances in which the dancers sang many songs that are still with us today.  Barbara Smith’s notes indicated that the “leader” for this dance was Augustina Omelau.  Here is Mengesang a Reng as sung in 1963:

Mengesang a Reng, Kayangel Matamatong dancers, 1963

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Lengelem re Ngak

Lengelem er Ngak
Sketch by Steve Minden, 2018

Today’s song, Lengelem re Ngak e Honey [Your cries over me, oh Honey] probably dates from the late 1970s or early 1980s.  The earliest recording of this I have is from one made of Brisia Tangelbad and her electric band playing at the Fisherman’s Tavern in Tamuning Guam in 1980.  Brisia sings the lyrics in the order 1, 3, 2, 3, as presented below.  In this performance she substitutes the word “Seabee” for “Honey” in the first line.  A Seabee, of course, is a member of the US Navy Construction Batallion, who are still present at their Camp Katuu in Airai.  She also substitutes the name of the bar in the third verse (Fisherman’s for Rendezvous), the second time through, since she is singing at Fisherman’s Tavern.  Once again, her band features a great, still unidentified guitar player.

Lengelem re Ngak, Brisia Tangelbad, Live at the Fisherman’s Tavern 1980

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