Mengemedaol er a Irechar

Last March, my friend Tony Phillips and I went to Palau to perform some of the old songs in the 1960s String Band style as “Ngirchoureng“, meet and play with some of the musicians and composers, and talk to folks about how much we love this music.  Since we returned to California, we have been busy recording the Palauan songs that we had worked up for our trip. Just like our performances at the Night Market and Museum back in March, but this time, you can adjust the volume to your liking. Hopefully I fixed the pronunciation problems that you all so kindly overlooked. We’ve produced a CD of 20 songs, and we’re pretty happy with the way it turned out. Thanks again for the wonderful hospitality of our friends in Palau, old and new.

I selected the title “Mengemedaol er a Irechar” because I like the sense that the word “mengemedaol” can mean either “to welcome” or “to celebrate.” The way I think of this word, is through its relation to the word “klechedaol,” the activity where one village invites another to come and spend some time together, dancing, singing and just renewing their friendship. Mengemedaol is like the welcome that one family makes to another, as they come together to share some joy. And it is also the prelude — the first step — to a celebration of shared experiences. And I think that is what we should do with respect to the past: welcome it into our lives and celebrate the beauty that was brought to us by our elders and ancestors. I don’t know about you, but I think it is pretty cool that in 2018 I am singing a song — Tobiera — that two remechas named Dilmers and Degaragas sang in 1936 and was composed by some unidentified person in 1931, 87 years ago. How different their lives were to ours today, but we can cross the bridge to the past (adidil er a irechar) and join them for a song.

Any way, we hope you enjoy these recordings and that we get another opportunity to sing some songs together.

We’re offering only digital downloads of the album through Band Camp. You can listen to the songs by clicking on the titles in the player below or buy them for download (Kebruka is free) at Bandcamp.  At the bandcamp site we’ve included the lyrics and translations, along with some background on each song.  I hope you enjoy listening as much as we do playing this music.



Aikal rdechel a iedel a chemoes

Today’s song is known by several titles: “Sechelei, Beluad a Kekeriei” [Friend, our village is small], “Mesabchemoes [Harvesting before its time] or “Kerior a Mlei” [Misfortune has Come].  This is a powerful song, with a subject that might be difficult to discuss.  Mesabchemoes is a compound word meaning a “(person) tending to harvest plants too early” or, alternatively “prone to playing around sexually with someone too young.”  In this song, the singer’s predilection has been discovered and, the village being a small place, everyone knows about it.  He recognizes it as a sickness and now must leave the village (and, perhaps, life itself?) as punishment.

The first recording comes from the 1960s Ngerel Belau Radio Tape collection.  This was another on a long tape simply entitled “Palauan Music”, so we don’t know who the singer or other musicians were.  The singer is backed by a guitar and mandolin in a very understated way, but completely appropriate to the subject matter of the song.

Sechelei, Beluad a Kekeriei, Singer Unknown, 1960s

The lyrics are contained in two different song books [1], [2] from which I’ve conformed the spelling and word structure.  Alternate lyrics are in brackets, with the first choice being what was sung in the 1960s recording and the second what is presented in the song books (and which Halley sings).

Sechelei, beluad a kekeriei kerior a mlei
Me ng kodeb a klengar re [ngak] [kid]
Kerior el ngara deleuill er a
klsai re kid me a kremiid e diak kubes

Wanga otomodachi no minasama
[Dikea] [Ng dimlak] dekasoes e ak riedang
Me a kuldengei el kmo ngdiak bo klomelemii e a
kiliei me kede kasoes

Wanga Akoru no minasama yo
Rebladek a mlei el melai re ngak
Rubechedengei me di kesumech e kung obo
eke kmu klmesmechek

Ona gori yoshii bokura no
Inochi haya kireta
Sechelei mak di lillangel er a rektek el uoi
meringel e sechelei el mesabchemoes

I translate this as follows.  My friend Kenzo helped again with the Japanese:

Friend, our village is small, where misfortune has come
And short is the life of [mine] [ours]
The misfortune is in our relationship
which isn’t enough for either of us, so I leave and will not forget

To all my companions
who I no longer see, I am just leaving
and I know that I will not continue as
I lived when we saw each other

To everyone in Akoru
The spirit of our ancestors came and took me
My friends who are couples, just come and give me your message and then go
And I’m going to tell you my farewell

I was reluctant to leave my companions
My life is already finished
Friend, I just cried about my sickness that is rather
difficult, where I am attracted to those too young

I don’t have any information on who composed this song or when.  However, the lyrics provide us a few clues.  The third verse starts with “Wanga Akoru no minasama yo,” which is the exact same phrase that starts the fourth verse of the song “Akoru no Abai” (also known as Wanga Akoru).  Akoru seems to be a place name in Ngiwal.  Both songs also use the contraction “rubechedengei“, apparently formed from combining “rubekel” [couples] + “ochedengei” [brother/friend].  This may be evidence that both songs were written by the same person; Ngirasiau is credited with composing Akoru no Abai.

Halley Eriich recorded this song in 1989 on his tape “Ngerbuns” using the name “Mesab Emoes.”  On this recording he sings verse 1 followed by verse 4 and then verses 2 and 3.  The tape was recorded in the Philippines and Halley was backed up by Filipino musicians Ramon Panuelos on bass, Julius Belosario on guitar, Rey Lizardo on keyboard and Rene Enriquez on drums.  The jaunty feel of this recording is, to my ears, a bit too upbeat considering the song’s story.

Mesab Emoes, Halley Eriich, 1989

Teichy Mandarin recorded a song entitled “Sechelei, Te Mesabchemoes” on his 2003 tape “Mengurs a Ngurd,” which might be related to this song.  Unfortunately I do not have a copy of that recording.

[1] — Cisca Yalap Soaladaob’s songbook, Volume 2, Undated.
[2] — Chelitakel ‘R Belau, Volume 2, (undated and no author listed), Printed by MYO Publication, 90 pages total

Watasi no Kot era Soak

The Japanese word watashi (わたし) is translated to English as the pronoun “I, me” but also can be used as a noun to mean “private affair, personal matter, secrecy.”  The word shows up in phrases in several different Palauan songs:  “delebeakl watasi el tada hitori” [the curse is a private affair leaving me a person alone] (Klamiokel Berrous) or “Omoi nayame nine mamire ta watasi” [the problems with our love have been covered up as a private affair] (Orekuul).  At least I hope those are reasonable translations. When borrowed into Palauan, the “sh” turns into “s” so “watashi” becomes “watasi.”

In today’s song — Watasi no Kot er a Soak [This Private Affair is my Primary Desire] — the singer recalls a love from his youth that he still nurtures in his heart.  It must remain secret though, as she now wears the wedding ring of another.

I have only found a single recording of this song.  It was sung by Isimang Bandarii in 1965 when Baurie Oingerang went to Kayangel to record the Paradise Club.  Isimang was 18 when this song was recorded.  The backing musicians were probably Seibo Rechebong on guitar and Tadasi Tadong on mandolin.  Isimang thought that this song was composed by his father, Bandarii, long before 1965 [2].

Watasi no Kot er a Soak, Isimang Bandarii, 1965

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Kerior el Ngar Kid

Today’s song is the first of two songs that uses the title Kerior el Ngar Kid [misfortune dwells with us].  This first song I believe was composed by Yaoch Iechad, a mandolin player, singer and composer from Airai.  The second, which hopefully I’ll write about someday, was composed much later, by another Airai composer – Terue Daniel.

I only have a single recording for this song, but the lyrics showed up twice in the same songbook [1].  The first entry carried the name “Kerior el Ngar Kid” while the second entry, with nearly identical words, was called “Bechesill a Urungulek” [sweetheart, my desire].  The words in the songbook vary slightly from what I hear Yaoch singing on the recording.

Here is Yaoch Iechad singing the song from the Ngerel Belau Radio Tapes.  The tape box didn’t identify who was backing up Yaoch.  When I was in Palau last month, I was told that Yaoch was a fine mandolin player, and so this is probably him playing on this recording.  The opening of the recording is a bit messed up, where I think the tape had been spliced.

Kerior el Ngar Kid e Ochedengei, Yaoch Iechad, 1960s

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a beab

Today’s song — Rasechebeab [the blood of a rat] — uses one of the most cutting Palauan expressions that I know of for its title.  Referring to someone as having the blood of a rat is to call them cruel, heartless or having no compassion.  I count four other songs (so far:  1, 2, 3, 4) where this expression is used.  The lack of compassion in today’s song makes the bloom fall off the plant; their love has fallen to the ground, discarded like a dead flower.

This song shares its melody with “Karebara no Hana.”  Since that song has lyrics entirely in Japanese, perhaps today’s song was written as an extension to it, with most of the words in Palauan.  I wonder who might know the answer to that?  While the words are different, both songs end with their love being like a dead flower (any old flower in today’s song and a dead Palauan rose in Karebara no Hana).

Let’s listen to Myuki Takataro and the Lucky 7 Band (from Ngiwal).  She is backed up by a guitar and mandolin.

Rasechebeab, Myuki Takataro & the Lucky 7 Band, 1960s

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Dororael er a tebetab, e ng kmal mle ungil a buil

Today’s song, K.B., gets its title from the initials of the person who has walked away from the singer and left her (?) in misery.  This song was composed by Dudiu Tutii from Ngeremlengui, who composed a number of similar songs that use the initials of the people involved in the affair (see, for example, KDNT).  Most of Dudiu’s songs were composed in the early 1960s, although I don’t have a date for this one.  This song was recorded with Dudiu’s daughter, Rita Dudiu, singing as a part of the Ngerel Belau Radio Tapes, recorded in the 1960s.  Rita is accompanied by a single guitar played in the “japanese” style.  It is possible that this was Aichi Ngirchokebai playing guitar, but that is just a guess.

KB, Rita Dudiu, 1960s

The guitarist’s playing starts in a 4/4 pattern, but then he settles into a waltz tempo as the singing starts.  The melody of the song is in a minor (Aeolian) key and uses the Yonanuki pentatonic scale.  The guitar chords used to backup the singer are i-m, VI, and V (so, if in the key of Am, the chords would be Am – F – E).

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Kimito Wakarete

Today’s song — Kimi to Wakarete [Apart from You] — is clearly influenced by the culture — songs and movies — brought to Palau by the Japanese colonists in the period of 1914 through 1945.  The subject of the song is familiar, with the couple and their children living apart, possibly for work or school, but also possibly a result of their “cursed” behavior.  The song composition is credited to Belekuu [1], a name I have not previously come across and I know nothing about this person.  A 1933 Japanese silent movie entitled Kimi to Wakarete might have inspired the song, although perhaps we will never know.  Here is a short clip from that movie:

Let’s listen to a recording from the Ngerel Belau Radio Tapes.  This recording was on a tape simply labeled “Palauan Music”, and contained 18 recordings from the 1960s/70s.  Because of the lack of a label, I don’t know the name of the singer or the accompanying band members.  The singer is accompanied by a guitar and mandolin playing in a spot-on imitation of a Japanese song, including a pretty amazing mandolin break.  Does anyone know which Japanese song this comes from?

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