Bechesiil a Telbiled

Julie Tatengelel Aichi is known for singing several classic songs including today’s song, Bechesiil a Telbiled. This song was likely composed by Dudiu Tutii, as it carries several of his calling cards, including using the initials of the subjects of the song in the lyric. Of course, we don’t know who JLA and JFR were and Dudiu sometimes played tricks with rearranging the initials of the song subjects, just to keep their identity hidden. Yoichi K. Rengiil remembers hearing Julie sing this song when she, Aichi Ngirchokebai, Hidebo Sugiyama and Yoichi were performing in Ngeremlengui in the mid-1960s.

The first recording of the song that we have is from a Ngerel Belau recording made sometime in the 60s where Julie is backed up by a guitar and mandolin duo termed the Voice of Palau band. One of these is likely Hidebo Sugiyama. The guitar playing does not sound to me like Aichi and Hidebo could play both the mandolin and guitar, so I don’t know who is who. Unfortunately, the reel to reel tape from which I digitized this recording must have had a break that was spliced, as the first two lines are cut out.

Bechesiil a Telbiled, Julie Tatengelel Aichi, 1960s

The lyric is as follows:

(V1) Bechesiil a telbiled, a renguk kede lomelemii
e a lechub e kau a tomelii e di mocha ikrak e mong
a le ngara ngii a bok kudmeklii
eng mo uchul ke lmuut el mei
cheriei e ng di mesubed a renguk leng mlo blingelek er a chelid

(C1) A JLA di mechikang
JFR di mechikang me di
dechachiil e kau me ngak
el mol mora luut er kau

(V2) Mo melai iuechel a medak e kau a diak era rengum
lelta mlar ngii a bertelem me ke kora di ousuchiis ȩ kung
e bo becherei e ng di mesubed a renguk
lelta e ng mlo blingellek era delak ma demak
cheriei mem lemelemii a rengum er a soam e bong

(C2) Ea kmong techang di mechikang
Kmong techang di mechikang me di
dekauesingch e kau me ngak
el mol mora kodelled

(V3) Ke di medengei chomengiil leng kmong kotaer era bedenged
le lak omsal di meterkakl
chebuul el dil el smecher a rengul
el di chelitang ra dukllel el lmangel el mengerekord a chiul
e di omusekel er sel chiull el ko dilkau

(C3) Ea kmong techang ke [mor] [ngar] keltang
Kmong techang bom chelleklau e lak
morreched el muut el mei
eng mo uchul ak mo mesengaked

I translate the lyric as follows:

(V1) Sweetheart, the promise we made, I thought we would follow through on it
instead, you broke it and just turned your back on me and left
if only there is a way we could straighten it out
and it would be the reason you return
never mind, I will just accept it because it was my destiny

(C1) JLA, just goodbye
JFR, just goodbye and so we just
wait for each other, you and I
until you return

(V2) You could take away the tears that fall from my eyes but you have no feelings
perhaps you had a place to hide and so you are sort of just starting to avoid me
I will leave it alone and just accept it
perhaps it was the destiny that was planned for me by my parents
never mind and just continue to follow your heart’s desires and leave

(C2) Whoever you are, just goodbye
whoever you are, just goodbye and so we will just
hope to see each other, you and I
until the time that we die

(V3) You just know that if you wait it will affect our bodies
because you don’t dwell on the just careless,
poor woman whose heart is sick
just abandoning her sleeping place, crying and pulling out her hair
and then just wrapping herself around that pillow, just like it is you

(C3) Whoever you are, where [are you going?] [are you?]
who is the one who will calm you so that you don’t
hurry to return
and that will be the reason that I will become skinny

Julie recorded this song again on her tape “Echoes of the ’60s,” recorded in Saipan in 1998 and gave it the title “JLA.” On that recording she sang the last three lines of the final chorus (C3) as the last 3 lines of the second chorus (C2). She also changed the first line of C3 from “ke mor keltang” to “ke ngar keltang.”

JLA, Julie Tatengelel Aichi, 1998

Brisia Tangelbad recorded this song on her 1993 tape with her sister Fidencia called “Belau er Kau me Ngak.” This was recorded in the Phillipines and while the tape does not give any musician credits, this recording was arranged by Jerry Paraiso with a quite fancy backing track full of jazzy chord substitutions. It starts out sounding like a track from the early 80’s rock band The Police. In this recording the third verse is left out and she does a few line substitutions, but all in all a very nice version of the song.

Bechesiil a Telbiled, Brisia Tangelbad, 1993

The Mandolin Players of Palau

Palauan mandolin players, 1930-38

I recently received some old photographs from Birgit Abels that she found in the Liebenzell mission archives in Germany.  These photos depict protestant missionaries with groups of young Palauans with guitars and mandolins.  I have cropped these photos to just focus on the mandolin players, as I am curious to know who they might have been.  The first photo was taken sometime in the period of 1930 – 38, based on the presence in the photo of a missionary who was in Palau during that period.  These boys look to me to be about 12 to 15 years old, which would put their birth years in the early 1920s, about the same age as Ymesei Ezekiel, who was born in 1921.  I was told by his niece, Krete Williams, that Ymesei could play many instruments, including the mandolin, and so maybe one of these boys is a young Ymesei Ezekiel.  The boy in the center has been identified by Yoichi Rengiil as his uncle, Tatsuo Adachi (1920 – 1980), who would later become the first principal of Koror Elementary School [1] and a statistical clerk in the TT government.

Mandolin Players in Ngiwal, 1939

The next photo was taken in 1939 in Ngiwal and shows two mandolin players.  To my eyes, the two boys in 1939 are different from the three boys in the earlier photo.  Again, these boys look to me to be of high-school age, which might put their birth year in the mid-1920s.

The Ngerel Belau radio tapes, recorded in the 1960s, included the playing of several different mandolin players.  As I currently understand it, the musicians playing mandolin on those recordings included Neterio Henry, Hosei Faustino and Kyoshi Ngirangol (Angaur), Yaoch Iechad (Airai, but also recorded with the Paradise Club in Kayangel), Tadao Tadong (Kayangel), Tem Obakerbau and Jose (Aimeliik), and Ngirasob (from Ngermid).

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Lengelel a Tutau

Tutau Bird (Colluricincla tenebrosa)

These are times when we should be listening to nature, and so I composed this song — Lengelel a Tutau [the cry of the morning bird] — inspired by the sounds of the Tutau (the morning bird), along with the Biib (fruit dove), recorded in Palau in March of this year. At the bottom of this page is a recording I made as a part of working out the song concept.

The song recording includes bird sounds I recorded at a house in Kesebelau, Airai, Palau on March 10, 2020. I filtered the bird-sound recording to enhance the range (950 to 1700 Hz) of the Tutau bird and then visually identified the time and frequency of the sound using the Izotope RX-5 audio editor.

A sample of the audio spectrum is shown below, with two stereo tracks shown (left on top of right) and the time scale on the x-axis and frequency shown on the y-axis. The strength of the signal for any time/frequency combination is indicated by the brightness (so whiter regions indicate stronger sounds in that frequency range). The arrow points to a bird call at about 48 seconds into the recording with a frequency of about 1000 Hz.  That call is followed by the next call at about 51 seconds at a frequency of about 1680 Hz.

Time/Frequency spectrum of audio clip

Based on my measurements on the 2.25 minute sound clip, the Tutau bird sings a series of near-constant pitches, each lasting from 0.6 to 1.2 seconds (average of 0.93 seconds), with a start-to-start interval ranging from 2.4 to 6.6 seconds (averaging 3.6 seconds).  The lowest pitch was at about 968 Hz, somewhere between a Bb and B in the 5th octave.  The bird appears to sing a scale limited to 6 notes:  1 – 2b – 2 – 3 – 5 – 7b, where 1 is the lowest note it sings and using a tempered scale relative to that low note).  The following table gives the average frequencies for each of the similar pitches, along with the ratio of those frequencies to the lowest (root) pitch and a comparison of frequency ratios for the Equi-tempered scale and the Just scale.  The error of these two scales was calculated and showed that the equi-tempered scale was a better (but not perfect) fit to the frequencies sung by the bird.

Note Use Average Frequency Ratio to Low Note Ratio for Equal Tempered Scale Ratio for Just Scale
1 25.6% 968.2 1.000 1.000 1.000
2b 10.3% 1,023.3 1.057 1.059 1.042
2 25.6% 1,108.4 1.145 1.122 1.125
3 7.7% 1,231.4 1.272 1.260 1.250
5 15.4% 1,414.4 1.461 1.498 1.500
7b 15.4% 1,686.2 1.742 1.782 1.800

The sequences it sang over that 2-1/4 minutes, separating those sequences by the starting low note, were as follows:

  • (start of recording) – 2 – 5
  • 1 – 2 – 7b – 2b – 3 – 7b
  • 1 – 2 – 5
  • 1 -2 – 2b- 7b
  • 1 – 2 – 5
  • 1 – 2 – 5
  • 1 – 7b – 2b – 3 – 7b
  • 1 – 2 – 5
  • 1 – 2 – 5
  • 1 – 2 – 7b – 2b – 3
  • 1 – 2 (end of recording)

Some observations:

  • Half of the notes were either the 1 or the 2. The 3rd was sung less than 8% of the time.
  • A 1 note is usually (with one exception in this sound sample) followed by a 2 note
  • The 5 note was always followed by a 1 note

I used those notes — 1, 2b, 2, 3, 5, 7b or, using C as the lowest note, C, C#, D, E, G, Bb — as the pallete of notes from which to choose in composing the song and had the chorus follow the actual melodic line sung by the bird (shown in bold above): 1 – 2 – 5 , 1 – 2 – 7b, 2b – 3, except that I resolved the sequence with the 5 note (G). While I have expressed everything on the C scale, relative to the lowest note sung by the bird, the song resolves to a Gm ( and so the scale is 1 – 3b – 4 – 4# – 5 – 6, with 1 being a G).

Here’s what I came up with

Lengelel a Tutau, Jim Geselbracht, 5/1/2020

The lyrics are:

Ng kuk mocha tutau
Lengelel a charm a
melatk er ngak a

Bechesiil ak riedang
e a kuchoitii a ngerang?
kau a meral churengelak

ak di mle cheleiud
e kulsiik a kmong techang
e chelechaeng a kudengelii

meluluut a renguk

A charm er a tutau
lomes a klengar er kid
e lmangel er a klengiterreng
er a rechad el chilitii

A charm a lolekoi a ngerang?
Ngera belkul a tekoi?
lolekoi a lengelel a rechebuul

Ng techa el osisechakl
a hu el sabisii
lomes a rechad e lodengelii

meluluut a renguk

I translate this as:

The morning light is breaking
The cry of the bird
reminds me of
our saying farewell

Sweetheart, I am going astray
and what did I throw away?
you truly complete me

I just made a mistake
and I was looking for whom, I don’t know
and now I understand it

let’s put things in order
my heart keeps returning

The morning bird
it watches our lives
and cries over the sorrow
of the ones who were discarded

What is the bird speaking about?
What is the meaning of the words?
It speaks the cries of the miserable ones

Who taught it
the melody of the lonely?
it watches the people and it understands

let’s put things in order
my heart keeps returning

I hope you like it.

Just for fun, I challenged my nephew, Zach Armstrong to compose a song using the same 6-note scale.  Here’s what he came up with, naming it “Bird Funk.”

Anyone else?

Song Discussion Sessions during Ngirchoureng Visit

I’ve been getting ready for another trip to Palau with my friend, Tony Phillips, where we will be performing as Ngirchoureng.  We are hoping to focus our musical energies on the week of March 9 through the 13th, which we are quite presumptuously labeling as the “Palauan String Band Music Festival.”  We hope to be having musical activities all week focused on Palauan music played on acoustic instruments (mandolin and guitar) and songs composed between 1915 and the 60s.  One of the activities we are planning is that Jim will lead a daily song discussion — from noon to 1 pm, so bring a bento — where we will examine the song lyrics and discuss the thoughts expressed in them and their relevance to today, from a group of 3 to 4 songs that share something in common.

We will start on Monday, March 9th, where we look at 4 songs on the subject of dreams.  If you want a head start, you can read about each of these songs and listen to recordings of them by following the links below:

In the session, we will listen to recordings and talk through the Palauan and/or Japanese lyric and my sometimes clumsy translation to English, which will hopefully lead to some discussion of what the lyrics mean to the others in the session.  And especially if you know the back story.  We want to celebrate the poetry of these composers.

Details on the other four sessions, and the location for the sessions, to be announced next week

Dirk Oltoir

Wataru Elbelau [1]

Today’s song — Dirk Oltoir [Still in Love], also known as Bekesel Ochik [my destiny] — expresses the inner pain of a one-sided love that has made the one left behind feel like they are in the way, in pain, restless and twisted in knots.  While the central theme of this song is the standard “hurt and inert” attitude of the spurned lover heard in many modern Palauan songs, this song lyric is unique in its use of a repeating refrain at the end of each verse:  “di melengelakl e diak lodengei el kmo chad a dirk oltoir” [she just keeps passing by and doesn’t know that this person is still in love].  I have not come across another Palauan song that uses a repeating refrain form (as opposed to a full chorus), and it is very effective in this song at driving home the forlorn-lover’s complaint.

The only recording I have is from Wataru Elbelau from the Ngerel Belau Radio tapes.  It was labeled on the tape box with the title “Dirk Oltoir.”  Wataru is backed up by a rhythm guitar, mandolin and what sounds like some ukuleles.

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Te Uoi Chetik a Remekedung

Te Uoi Chetik [2]

Today’s song — Te Uoi Chetik a Remekedung [I rather don’t like them, the well-behaved] — sort of takes its title from the last verse of the song in which he claims that he truly does not like the well behaved.  Maybe at the time of the recording Keng-ich decided to slightly soften his dislike.

The only recording of this song I have found is by Keng-ich Ucharm from the Ngerel Belau Radio tapes.  The title was written on the tape box along with Keng-ich’s name.  Keng-ich composed this song to Mitsko [written elsewhere as Mitsuko] Otei, a woman from Kayangel [1].  Mitsko was also a singer, and we have a recording of her singing “Bai Derengul a Ngeltengat er a Chelid” [Lucky to be blessed by the gods].  Keng-ich is singing this song in a falsetto voice accompanied by two guitars.

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Kuchang Kitang Ngara Kosiil

Ko er a char er a Kosiil

For today’s song I have more questions than answers.  I found this song on a recording made at the Bai er a Metal in 1978 of the electric band playing there.  The singer is probably Brisia Tangelbad, although I have not been able to confirm that.  I am giving it the title “Kucha Kitang Ngara Kosiil,” from the opening line of the song.  I haven’t found this song in any of the song books or on any tapes/CDs where it was given a published title.  Nor do I have any information on who the composer was or when it was composed.  I’ve asked around, but no luck.  Anybody have any information to share?

So let’s listen to this recording.

Kucha Kitang Ngara Kosiil, Bai er a Metal Band, 1978

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A Eanged a Ungil

A Eanged a Ungil
(illustration in the book of sheet music)

Today’s song is a bit of a change from the other modern Palauan music I’ve been writing about on this blog, and it adds some complexity to the narrative of the story of that music’s development.  As I’ve written elsewhere, Ymesei Ezekiel played a large role in the development of Palauan music in the 1950s through the 1970s.  His musical education role, both in the schools and in the protestant church, included making arrangements for, teaching and leading choral singing groups in Palau.  Today’ song — A Eanged a Ungil [the sky is good] — is a general place-celebratory song, describing the beauty of Palau when the rain has stopped, the sky has cleared and the moon has begun to rise.  So beautiful that it attracts the children (and birds) to leave their houses and come to the beach to play.   And a warning:  this song will get in your head and won’t leave!

The only recording of this song I have is from the recordings collected by the University of Hawaii music professor, Barbara Smith, who visited Palau in the fall of 1963.  During that trip she recorded singers and musicians but was also given recordings that had been previously made.  This recording was on a tape entitled “Other Dubbings Given to Barbara Smith, 1963,”  This track feature four-part choral singing.

A Eanged a Ungil, Unidentified Choral Group, 1963 or earlier

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Doki Doki

Doki, doki is a Japanese expression for the rapid beating of your heart, maybe like the English phrase “pitter patter.”  One internet commenter said about it’s meaning:  “That is usually a good thing and is usually when you are anticipating something wonderful about to happen.”  Another said “It’s an expression for ‘heart pounding’, the reason may be embarrassment, love, fear, etc.”  It’s a great onomatopoeia expression that describes, in the case of today’s song, the heart-pounding moment when two former lovers come face to face on the village path.  The awkward meeting on the path brings back memories of an earlier encounter, much in the past.  And perhaps she was the one that was wrong because they had their favorite places to go hang out and once she told him to go there and wait for her, but the whole night passed until the roosters were consistently crowing (and that is really late in the morning) without her showing up.  Since then he has followed his heart elsewhere and so, they step aside, say farewell, and continue on their way down the path.

I only have one recording of this song, from the 1987 Bai er a Metal recording, featuring Sikitong on guitar and vocals.

Doki Doki Sel Tal, Sikitong Beltau and the Bai er a Metal Band, 1978

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Adidil er Tial Buil

Growing up in Central Illinois, in the heartland of America, I was certainly aware of the moon, but it did not play an important part of my life, with perhaps the exception of July 1969 when we were all in the grips of the ultimate connection to the moon (a kot el klou adidil er tial buil), the first moon landing.  But while living in Micronesia for four years during my 20’s, I learned the connection of the moon to daily life as it relates to the tides and the lives of the fish, crabs, etc. that were our food sources.  Nearly everyone in Palau is aware of the current moon phase.  Beyond its connection to every-day life, the moon can be breath-takingly beautiful as well and it is no coincidence that the rising moon is the symbol on the flag of Palau.

Well, and also because Palauans were the first people to go to the moon.  Listen to this Ngerel Belau radio broadcast from August, 1969, telling the story of Tkud and his wife Remesei who, along with their ever-crying child and their favorite lime tree [kerekur], live on the moon:

Cheldecheduch era Tkud me a Remesei, Ngerel Belau – Palauan, August 1969

Cheldecheduch era Tkud me a Remesei, Ngerel Belau – English, August 1969

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