Music, Singing, Dancing
Music and dancing are part of Polynesian culture, they were, and are still present as soon as visitors arrive.
In the old days, the female dancer was wrapped in tapa (a vegetal based fabric made from tree bark: breadfruit, hibiscus, the bark was peeled off, soaked in streams to soften it, scraped with shells, pounded with a paddle, then decorated. All these operations were left to women). Black and red feathers, shells and mother of pearl were added to embellish the garment.
The musical instruments used were : tall drums, nasal flutes (vivo), conch shells (pu), a small bass drum (pahu), ukuleles (a sort of mandolin based on the Portuguese bagha), to’ere (wooden drum with a slit, held vertically and hit with a stick).
Contests are organized during the heiva (formerly called Tiurai, July festivities in Papeete). There are also mini-heiva in July and August in the other Society Islands.
The 4 major traditional dances
- The otea , a war dance performed in group, where the dancers are lined up in columns and accompanied with percussion
- The hivinau, danced in circles accompanied by drums and a male vocal soloist to whom the dancers sing back together
- The aparima, danced in columns, a melodious dance where dancers mime scenes of the daily life. This dance is accompanied with singing, guitar and ukulele
- The pao’a, a sensual dance performed in a half circle. A couple of dancers improvises a dance in the center while the other dancers sit on the ground clapping their hands to the beat.
As to the well known tamure , it is a recent name for a dance presently executed in couple in public dancing areas or dancing clubs.
As to costumes, they include a skirt (more, pronounced as mo-ray), a belt and a bra made of shells or coconut shells. The male costume is composed of a more, a belt and a huge headgear. Feathers or pompoms are hand held by the dancers to accentuate their moves.
Although not as prestigious as the dances, singing contests are also very much appreciated. These polyphonic songs originated from Christian hymns and traditional Polynesian harmonies. Choirs are composed of male and female singers and may include up to 10 different voices.
While Tahiti remains the cradle of tamure, local pop music is strongly inspired by foreign influences. Reggae, biguine and French songs are heard all day long on local radio stations, not to mention the sounds of House and other styles like Rap or Techno... Still, old songs of the 60's survive against all new trends and represent 50% of CD sales. The Polynesian remains quite attached to the old fashioned charm of romantic songs that speak of love, sun and fresh water. The many local stars are the happy proofs of this. Among the rising new generation, Tapuarii Laughlin or Maruia are very admired artists. Many and various concerts still attracts big crowds, even among those who like more modern music. The pleasure of dancing, especially the Tahitian Waltz, a two-beat version of the Viennese waltz, makes it possible for many local band to make a living from their talent. Ball or dancing opportunities organised on weekend remain popular with the entire population and often go on until dawn.
Among the islands' most proven stars, Gabilou, Esther, Rataro, Angelo, Andy Tupaia, groups like Michel Poroi's Trial Basis Guy Laurens' Fenua are on top of the hit parade. But recordings by groups with 50's and 60's styles still keep wide spaces on the shelves of local record stores. The Barefoot Boys, News Bananas and Petiot are names that still make middle aged Tahitians dream about the blessed time of the Bringue. The most important local musical publishing company, Oceane Productions, keeps at your disposal an unlimited catalog of first class CDs or cassettes.