Music of Tonga

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Music of Tonga refers to music derived from the island Tonga in the islands of Polynesia. Music of Tonga today generally falls under the category of traditional music that has withstood the test of time, or into one of the two opposing genres of religious and secular music. Tongan music can be either very emotional and somewhat modern with instrumental makeup including modern brass instruments, or conversely can be very primitive and consist of only drums and voices. In this way, Tongan music is very diverse despite the fact that it is contained to a fairly small island, which means that the different cultures and styles co-exist on the small land mass together without blending.

Music form of art using sound

Music is an art form and cultural activity whose medium is sound organized in time. General definitions of music include common elements such as pitch, rhythm, dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture. Different styles or types of music may emphasize, de-emphasize or omit some of these elements. Music is performed with a vast range of instruments and vocal techniques ranging from singing to rapping; there are solely instrumental pieces, solely vocal pieces and pieces that combine singing and instruments. The word derives from Greek μουσική . See glossary of musical terminology.

Island Any piece of sub-continental land that is surrounded by water

An island or isle is any piece of sub-continental land that is surrounded by water. Very small islands such as emergent land features on atolls can be called islets, skerries, cays or keys. An island in a river or a lake island may be called an eyot or ait, and a small island off the coast may be called a holm. A grouping of geographically or geologically related islands is called an archipelago, such as the Philippines.

Tonga country in Oceania

Tonga, officially the Kingdom of Tonga, is a Polynesian country and archipelago comprising 169 islands, of which 36 are inhabited. The total surface area is about 750 square kilometres (290 sq mi) scattered over 700,000 square kilometres (270,000 sq mi) of the southern Pacific Ocean. The sovereign state has a population of 100,651 people, of whom 70% reside on the main island of Tongatapu.



Tonga was discovered by European explorers in 1616. Early visitors, such as Captain Cook in the 1770s, and William Mariner in the 19th century, describe traditional dance performances featuring singing and drumming.

James Cook 18th-century British explorer

Captain James Cook was a British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy. He made detailed maps of Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, during which he achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, and the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand.

William Mariner (writer) English writer

William Charles Mariner was an Englishman who lived in Tonga from 29 November 1806 to (probably) 8 November 1810. He later published Tonga Islands, an account of his experiences that is now one of the major sources of information on Tonga before it was significantly influenced by European culture and Christianity

The first successful missionaries, English Methodists, arrived in 1822. By 1830, most of the population were nominally Christian. Western church music and Western classical and popular music would then start to mingle with the pure Tongan music, resulting in the often hybrid music of contemporary Tonga. Now popular guitar styles are used throughout Tonga too.

Methodism Group of historically related denominations of Protestant Christianity

Methodism, also known as the Methodist movement, is a group of historically related denominations of Protestant Christianity which derive their inspiration from the life and teachings of John Wesley. George Whitefield and John's brother Charles Wesley were also significant early leaders in the movement. It originated as a revival movement within the 18th-century Church of England and became a separate denomination after Wesley's death. The movement spread throughout the British Empire, the United States, and beyond because of vigorous missionary work, today claiming approximately 80 million adherents worldwide.

Surviving traditional music

Traditional music is preserved (though how faithfully we can only guess) in the set pieces performed at royal and noble weddings and funerals, and in the song sung during the traditional ceremony of apology, the lou-ifi.

Radio Tonga begins each day's broadcast with a recording from Veʻehala, a nobleman and celebrated virtuoso of the nose flute. The nose flute is otherwise rarely heard. Contemporary youth prefers the guitar.

Radio Tonga is Tonga's main commercial radio station, founded in 1961 by Queen Salote Tupou III, and operating as a service of the Tonga Broadcasting Commission (TBC). Its slogan is "The Call of the Friendly Islands". Radio Tonga currently broadcasts services on three separate frequencies.

Broadcasting distribution of audio and video content to a dispersed audience via any audio or visual mass communications medium

Broadcasting is the distribution of audio or video content to a dispersed audience via any electronic mass communications medium, but typically one using the electromagnetic spectrum, in a one-to-many model. Broadcasting began with AM radio, which came into popular use around 1920 with the spread of vacuum tube radio transmitters and receivers. Before this, all forms of electronic communication were one-to-one, with the message intended for a single recipient. The term broadcasting evolved from its use as the agricultural method of sowing seeds in a field by casting them broadly about. It was later adopted for describing the widespread distribution of information by printed materials or by telegraph. Examples applying it to "one-to-many" radio transmissions of an individual station to multiple listeners appeared as early as 1898.

Uiliami Leilua Vi known by his Tongan noble title Hon. Lord Veʻehala was a Tongan nobleman best known as nose-flute player. He remains undoubtedly the most famous Tongan musician, both at home and abroad, and his recordings are still traditionally the first broadcast every day by Radio Tonga.

Some ancient dances are still performed, such as ula, ʻotuhaka and meʻetuʻupaki.

The ula (dance) is an ancient Tongan group dance, already reported by early European navigators like captain Cook. It is also known as fahaʻi-ula, which may be degenerated to fahaʻiula. It is still danced nowadays, although less popular than its descendant the tauʻolunga.

The lali or slit-gong, is still in use—as a substitute for a church bell by congregations that cannot afford a bell.

In the late 19th century, missionaries introduced hymns popular in England and Australia at the time, keeping the Western tunes and translating the lyrics into Tongan. These hymns are still sung in the largest Methodist church, the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga.

Other Christian denominations have introduced their own musical traditions. The Roman Catholic church in Tonga, while a minority church, has been notable for its accepting attitude towards traditional Tongan culture. Their church music, however, follows Western Catholic models.

In the smaller churches and the minority Methodist sects, hymn singing is unaccompanied, hiva usu. A strong singer will sing the first notes alone (a practice called hua or opening) and the rest of the congregation will then join. Church choirs are popular, practice is frequent, and most congregations sing all hymns in harmony.

Free Wesleyan Churches feature not only choirs, but brass bands. It is possible that this tradition comes from northern England, a strongly Methodist area, where participating in brass bands is a popular amusement. Visitors may regret that the blaring bands drown out the delicate harmonies of the hymns, but Tongans glory in the size and splendor of their bands as they do the size and splendor of their churches. Smaller churches have no bands, but aspire to them.

All the Methodist churches have occasional choir exhibitions (po hiva), held in the larger churches, to which all the neighboring congregations are invited. Choirs practice assiduously to show off their prowess before their rivals. Handel's Hallelujah Chorus is frequently sung at these festivals, being esteemed as the epitome of choir display.

Hymn-singing is greatly practiced at the wakes before funerals. Relatives sit with the body, while mourners come to make their last greetings to the departed and to bring gifts to the bereaved. The church choir (from the family's own congregation) sits in the background, singing hymns through the day and night.

Secular music

Secular music is composed in a gamut of styles, ranging from the semi-traditional to the aggressively "pop" influenced by overseas styles. The usual instruments are voice, guitar, and sometimes the players from the church brass band.

Hiva kakala (fragrant songs, meaning love poems) are an important part of the semi-traditional group. Many of the ones still popular nowadays were made by queen Sālote in the 1950s and are the favourite tunes for the tauʻolunga dances. Another important part in this group are the more formal songs, slanted towards odes to the chiefs and the royal family. They are the ideal choice for dances like the māʻuluʻulu or the lakalaka, Tonga's national dance form.

Mixed dancing, or hulohula as practiced at parties and clubs in the Western world, is still comparatively rare. It is not a feature of village life, and can be found only in the cities, such as Nukuʻalofa.

Most village musicians display their talents only in church, or at the koniseti. The koniseti or concert is a display of dance and song, usually done as a fundraiser for some worthy cause, such as a sports team or a local congregation. The musicians consist usually of singers, guitar players, and possibly a church brass band. The music is melodic and minor key; it serves as background to the dancers. Sometimes villagers will rehearse a koniseti for months and then tour neighboring villages or even islands. The size of the receipts is commensurate with the quality of the show, and there is great incentive to excel. At other times the koniseti may be performed only once, for a special occasion.

Music is often heard in Tongan towns and villages, but it is usually music from Radio Tonga. Radio Tonga is a state-run radio station; it starts broadcasting early in the morning and ends late at night. It can be heard even in the smallest villages on the remotest islands, blasting from the omnipresent tepis or combination radio/tape cassette players (usually battery powered). One weary Western visitor was heard to complain, in 1980, "You can't get away from Radio Tonga".

Radio Tonga plays music from local Tongan musical groups, Fijian and Samoan bands, Hawaiʻian music, etc. It also broadcasts church services and choir competitions, so it disseminates church music as well as popular music. The Tongan groups usually feature strong vocals, solo or choral, haunting minor key harmonies, and guitar backup. To the unsophisticated Western ear, it savors of American country music.

Western pop is also popular among a younger audience, though disapproved by elders and churches. It can bought as CD or tape, seen on DVD or videotape, picked up on short-wave radio, viewed in movie theatres, or even watched on the one TV station, broadcasting from the capital city of Nukuʻalofa. However, government censors significantly limit what can be imported, or played.

Local custom also plays a part. It is forbidden to mention sexual topics in front of men and women who have a brother-sister relationship. This applies not only to brothers and sisters by Western reckoning, but also to cousins. Hence sexual references are taboo in most public situations where both men and women are present.

Contemporary Tongan pop music has reached outside Tonga, but only to the Tongan diaspora in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

No Tongan artists have achieved a cross-over hit. However, the Jets, an R&B/pop octet of the mid-1980s, had a string of hits on the American charts [ citation needed ]. The Minneapolis-based act consists of eight brothers and sisters whose mother and father had emigrated to the U.S. from Tonga.

See also

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