Just a month after Tropical Cyclone Pam devastated Vanuatu in March, the wheels of a youth-led creative recovery were kicking into gear, and playing a significant role in imagining and articulating new narratives for a rebuilt Vanuatu.
Further Arts and Fest’Napuan, two organisations at the vanguard of this youth-led recovery, launched major fundraising campaigns primarily for the support of their existing work around urban youth, arts and music, and village-based “kastom” and culture.
Members of these two organisations also took a lead role the recording of a ‘Kivhan’ appeal song, and through it catalysing the re-establishment of the national peak body for music, the Vanuatu Musik Federation (MFVB).
The proceeds from the song’s sale were pledged to support communities in the worst hit areas throughout Penama, Malampa, Shefa and Tafea province.
However, the song is not just an appeal song to raise funds. The musicians – all members of the MFBV, such as Karina, Susanna, Matilda, Gina, and Alcina Charlie (pictured) intended the recording to be a statement of solidarity – in their words to “write songs together and promote the resilience of the people”.
From this recording the musicians decided to organise a large benefit concert, the Wan Voes Kivhan benefit. The benefit concert was not aligned with any one organisation and was proudly produced by the “music community”.
On Saturday May 9, the community came together for the concert at the Saralana stage – home of Fest’Napuan. It was a full-day event with music performances in Vanuatu’s favourite genres: gospel, stringband, and contemporary pop/reggae.
One of the organisers, Alcina Charlie, (and also a member of both Further Arts and Fest’Napuan) said it was a first for local musicians.
“This is a first-ever music festival charity event for the needy that our local musicians have organized for Vanuatu,” Alcina said.
“We’ve had a humble beginning and experiences, we encountered challenges along the way, given we only had 4 weeks to prepare for it, but at the end of the day we have raised over $3000 so we’re proud of the success achieved for our first festival.”
Disasters split history in two; there is the time before the disaster and the time after the disaster.
Most people recover after a disaster, supported by strengths and courage found within themselves, their families and their communities.
Speaking this year at the Creating Futures Conference in Cairns, academics Penelope Burns and Beverly Raphael highlighted the importance of Vanuatu’s ‘local response’ in supporting the well-being of people during the disaster recovery.
Their research shows that after major disasters people are at high risk of major depression, generalized anxiety disorder and traumatic grief, often with some medically unexplained physical symptoms.
As part of the individual and community recovery process, it is critical for people to feel useful.
Further Arts, is providing avenues for young people to do just that through being involved in media production at its Nesar Studio in Port Vila.
Nesar Studio is an open access community multimedia studio whose purpose is to give credence to community voices and stories. The studio is an exampleof a Pacific Island community using grassroots media production to promote positive social change.
This is important because in Vanuatu, oral methods of communication, such as storytelling, are still the most valuable and reliable sources of information.
Nesar Studio’s name is related to the word ‘Nasara’, the name commonly used throughout Vanuatu for the ceremonial meeting place of a village.
It is at the Nasara that traditional Kastom knowledge and wisdom (through song, dance, art and other practices) is transmitted through generations.
Taking on this word and its connotations, Nesar Studio becomes an urban nasara in an age of increased use and access to telecommunications and media platforms as ways to transmit messages and knowledge.
Nesar Studio was also one of the victims of the cyclone, which destroyed the building that housed the facility.
Undefeated, members of Nesar Studio were able to salvage some cameras and began working with organisations like UNICEF to document the stories of survival.
They also negotiated a deal with the local Komiuniti Akses Media Television station (KAM TV) for a rent-free studio space, in exchange for three hours of content for broadcast each week.
Over the past three weeks all of the musicians in the MFBV and the members of Nesar Studio, have been working with the organising committee for Fest’Napuan – a three-day festival of music and culture from October 29.
This year, Fest’Napuan is celebrating its 20th anniversary and at the same running a fundraising campaign to support the recovery of ni-Vanuatu musicians by repairing the Fest’Napuan facilities at Saralana Stage and the public access music rehearsal Bié Studio.
Initiatives like Fest’Napaun, Nesar Studio, and the Wan Voes Kivhan concert and appeal song all provide important opportunities for young people and the broader arts community to engage in the re-building of the community and the nation.
These activities are all open to the public and they offer a practical ways for young people to become engaged with their community and feel a sense of utility and connection in a time of great stress and anxiety.
One of the young artists involved in this initiative is Bobby Shing, whose stage name is Tujah. In early October, Tujah released his latest single, Resilient which expresses the power of music as a tool for connection, healing and enjoyment in the post-disaster context of Vanuatu.
“This experience of living through such a disaster will only inspire us,” Bobby said.
For more information about the projects and initiatives in this article, and to support the creative recovery in Vanuatu please see:
Tom is a well-known figure in the cultural sector in Vanuatu, where he lived for almost a decade. Tom is a director of the Vanuatu NGO, Further Arts, and the Melbourne-based record label, Wantok Musik.
Also by Thomas Dick: Vanuatu's stories of resilience after Cyclone Pam