MOST Australian uke fans would know the name Rose Turtle Ertler.
I first met Rose when I was a part of her first Ukulele Land concert in Sydney in 2004 and we often catch up at uke festivals and events around the country. I’ve always been amazed by her incredible creative energy, so it came as no surprise to me that she was involved with musicians and activists from the West Papuan community in Melbourne. She became a member of the Black Orchid String Band and they recently released a self-titled album.
The first thing that struck me about the record was the beautiful presentation. I don’t know about you, but I still enjoy receiving a physical CD package in the mail. The enclosed booklet includes the wonderful stories behind the songs, many of which speak of the West Papuans’ struggle for independence from Indonesia.
Politics aside, it’s simply a lovely album. The 10-piece band features traditional bass, ukulele, tifa (a type of drum) and three-part vocal harmonies.
Fittingly, the lilting West Papuan Anthem gets things underway, then it’s on to Mystery Of Life, with its relaxed vibe and powerful lyrics about freedom. Next up, Melanesian (Brata na Sista) includes some nice steel-guitar work and a catchy chorus you’ll find yourself humming in the shower. The ukes get a good airing on Puke Elano (possibly my favourite) and Rose takes a starring role on Stars – a multilayered track that even features some beatboxing. The album finishes with a bang with Yako Pamane, a strum-happy tune that I think really sums up the friendly, generous nature of the West Papuan people.
The music of Melanesia shares more than a little DNA with that of Polynesia, so lovers of Hawaiian music will certainly enjoy the Black Orchid String Band. In fact, I can’t think of a reason why anyone would dislike them. Their musical skill mixed with passion for their cause and an innate exuberance for life is an irresistible combination.