Words by Seth Jordan
PNG’s favourite son and songman
Following his 1970s and 80s involvement with several local Melanesian string bands and the popular Papuan rock group Painim Wok, George Telek considerably widened his international audience beyond his home of Rabaul on the remote island of New Britain. His groundbreaking collaboration with Australian band Not Drowning Waving, 1991’s Tabaran, was followed by his own self-titled 1997 debut album, and the 2000 Real World release Serious Tam.
Although he is PNG’s most prominent musician, fame sits somewhat uneasily on this quiet and humble Tolai man, but his occasional albums and tours have kept him in the game, and this overdue 19-track compilation from his back catalogue should serve to further solidify his well-deserved reputation. Sung in both his native Kuanua language and Tok Pisin (pidgin English), Telek’s songs speak of ancestors, spirits, traditional village life and love. Primarily produced by his longtime Not Drowning colleague and friend David Bridie, there are well-chosen selections here from the early albums, as well as from the more recent Akave, Amette and Matogo (with Moab Stringband). At 55, Telek may jokingly refer to himself now as ‘lapun pinis’ (old man finished), but the new version of ‘Free West Papua (One People One Soul)’ included on this retrospective indicates that there’s plenty of creative life left in him yet.