Ples and the production of Lokal music in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

Music Humanities Arts and Social Science (HASS) Anthropology Popular music Papua New Guinea

This thesis examines how indigenous Papua New Guinean notions of identity and belonging are embodied in popular music production. I hypothesise that popular music production provides a space in which notions of identity and belonging are mediated, negotiated and reconfigured. To explore this hypothesis, this thesis examines the production of local popular music (referred to as Lokal music) in Port Moresby, the capital city of Papua New Guinea (PNG). Through this context, different spheres of the music industry are examined in order to highlight how fundamental notions of identity are embedded throughout its production. This thesis poses that identity in Port Moresby is embedded in the PNG notion of ples, which revolve around specific places, ideas concerning traditional culture, and indigenous concepts concerning social expectations and obligations that link people to rural places. Central to this study are home-based recording studios, which collectively produce hundreds of Lokal recordings each year. Through the examination of the social and cultural organisation of these studios, the production process, the marketing, and the local meanings associated with locally produced popular music, I propose that the Papua New Guinean notion of cultural identity is synonymous with the notion of ples – a Tok Pisin (the PNG lingua franca) term in which notions of affiliation and belonging are centered. Processes of ples affiliation, are fundamental to PNG identity, and underpin local music production at every stage. Ples, in the minds of Papua New Guineans living in Port Moresby, is simultaneously 'real' and 'imagined'; ples is the idea about the 'home', but these ideas are reinforced through social networks, called the Wantok System, that connect individuals to ples through a system of exchange and reciprocity. This thesis applies an ethnographic approach to the study of identity and place, and highlights the importance of local senses of knowing. Lokal music production is an ideal way to study notions of cultural identity in Port Moresby for a number of reasons. Firstly, Port Moresby is the centre of the PNG recording industry. The production of local music is a significant undertaking in PNG, both culturally and commercially. Since the early 1980s, over 100 commercially released local recordings - usually on cassette - are released every year. During research undertaken in Port Moresby between 2007 and 2009, over a dozen home-based studios operated in the city. Port Moresby hosts PNG's largest cassette duplication facility, as well as the headquarters of PNG's largest music company, Chin H Meen (CHM), which controls the only nationwide cassette distribution network. Studios in Port Moresby operate on a commercial basis, and purchasing cassettes, along with radio, is an important process of music consumption. Thus the act of buying music is significant, and the reasons why people buy particular music over others is driven by important social and cultural forces that reflect ideas about identity and belonging. Indigenous ideas concerning ples and the Wantok System that are observed and established throughout the production process are then considered in a specific rural-context, in ples, to explore the ways in the notion of ples, are locally constituted, and thus demonstrate how Lokal music reflects indigenous epistemology. This case study is significant, as it contextualises, the act of Lokal music production in Port Moresby as a process that is underpinned by indigenous modes of identity and belonging.

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