Institutt for sosialantropologi

"I want my music to be my own": A contemporary music scene in Honiara, Solomon Islands


By Pål Hægland

Supervisor: Edvard Hviding


My research was conducted in Honiara, the capital city of Solomon Islands, during the fall of 2008. I spent at total of five months in an urban environment, studying a music scene that has never before been studied. My methodological approach was participant observation, as the music scene of Honiara is not a fixed community, and actors are moving between different roles on a daily basis. I followed a key group of musicians around, in order to gain a full understanding into the workings of a Solomon Islands music scene.

I have focused on the experience of my informants, how they experience life in a city that is home to more than eighty unique languages. I felt it was vital to gain an understanding of a music scene that in 1998, with the rest of the country, went through a small-scale civil war that shifted the entire society. Solomon Islands’ popular music has, as mentioned, never been the subject of academic research, and as so obtaining information regarding actors and history proved difficult. I have therefore given a chronological account of the history of this culture from 1943 to 2008, and hopefully I have succeeded in providing a good representation of a fascinating history.

One key element in the music scene of Honiara is the ability of songs to represent a magnitude of social commentaries. In a country where custom (kastom) is very strong, and my informants – largely young urban dwellers – constantly felt the pressure of kastom on them, there are certain expectations of society’s members with regards to how one should act. Kastom regulates everything from urban movement to sexual relations, and musicians in many ways find a way to express their feelings through the use of songs. Although there is a complete lack of musical training and professional actors, the level of production is impressive. New songs are being spread around the city every week by means of informal exchange networks. I have looked at this exchange from the viewpoint of classical works of Gregory (1982), Mauss (1950) and Sahlins (1963, 1965), as well as using ethnographic works from Honiara and Solomon Islands, particularly Berg (2000), Hviding (1996), Jourdan (1995) and Keesing (1971, 1982).

I was also interested in understanding what happens when the music scene of a relatively small Pacific nation meets a multinational music industry, by looking at what is in Honiara widely regarded as musical theft. This was done by researching what happened when two musicians from France, “Deep Forest”, gained fame with a song that mixed in an old recording from Solomon Islands. What happens when forces of globalization clash with a culture deeply seeded in kastom, where compensation is a key element of society? Hopefully I have succeeded in presenting a good and balanced image of a highly complex musical culture in a culturally rich and diverse city.