Sway to the strumming of the ukulele with the Koka Lagoon Boys. Hear the joy of the gospel with the Cook Islands Christian Church. Dance to the beat of traditional drums with the Akirata Cultural Dance Troupe.
The rhythms of the Rarotonga reverberate still, for Oliver Gamblin and his partner Lavinya Scholl, even though Covid-19 means they can’t come back here.
For the past three-and-a-half years, the couple have been bussing, driving, biking, hiking, boating, training, camping around the world, recording the musical culture of different countries.
This week the two World Optimists, as they call themselves, have released their latest documentary, The Music and Culture of Rarotonga. It explores the culture of Rarotonga in a four-part musical journey showcasing the traditional music styles of the Pacific island paradise.
“When I think of Polynesia I think of beaches, palm trees, ukuleles and dancing. During our visit to Rarotonga November last year, I was not disappointed,” says Gamblin, who is from England.
Starting off as just small individual sessions, they have now recorded musicians in Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, New Zealand, Vanuatu and now Rarotonga.
They have turned the small sessions into full-length documentaries trying to showcase the amazing diversity of music and culture that exists in every nation they visit.
“We became interested in visiting Rarotonga after working for some time in Te Puke, New Zealand, where we met a group of people working there who had all come over together from Rarotonga for the harvest season.
“They were all really great and fun people to work with and at the end of the season they made a performance for the workers in the packhouse singing and playing “Enua Manea” with instruments they had brought over with them from Rarotonga.”
He said a few of them invited them, to visit and they knew they had to come and experience more of the wonderful culture of the Cook Islands.
“The thing we love most about the Cook Islands is the strong sense of community that we felt whilst we were there and their deep connection to their beliefs and to their culture.”
Scholl, from Germany, says the Cook Islands is full of life, love and music. The people are amazing, the music and culture is like nowhere else in the world. “This is what we came to explore.”
Gamblin added that being musicians, they decided a few years ago to start recording and documenting other amazing musicians that they met during their travels and this is how their YouTube channel, Two World Optimists, was born.
Watching the Rarotonga documentary, it starts off with the musicians of the Akirata Cultural Dance Troupe, singing “Me Ito Roa” and playing the ukulele and drums.
Gamblin later explains in the documentary that in 1821 missionary John Williams brought the Gospel to the Cook Islands and 200 years later you now hear the heavenly voices of its devout people.
The documentary goes on to show the beautiful hymn singing of the Cook Islands Christian Church choir, the unique sound known as Imene Tuki.
He said that for a small island with a lot going on, hymns and harmonies fill the churches in Rarotonga, but alongside this, they found the ancient rhythms of Polynesia, and the drumming of the pate performed by the Akirata Cultural Dance Troupe.
Their journey through Rarotonga ended with a cruise to the Muri lagoon with Koka Lagoon Cruises where the Koka boys shared their ukulele and drum islands sounds.
The couple have acknowledged: the wonderful musicians and performers who agreed to take part in the project, Akirata Cultural Dance Troupe, The Arorangi Congregation of Cook Islands Christian Church, The Koka Lagoon Boys and Koka Lagoon Cruises.
So, who gives way as the government proceeds with the exploration and potential mining of our seabed, and the intersection of voices that call for a moratorium or at least a more precautionary approach so science can better understand what lies below our precious ocean?
In a time when Cook Islands so desperately needs another income stream considering the ravages of Covid-19 on our tourism industry, and the need to diversify who goes first, and who gives way, what are the rules?
More importantly for us as Cook Islanders, who do we wave on first when we disagree?
It is absolutely evident that we need a second income stream. Because we should never be beholden to just one income, the intersection of tourism in the 1970s has taught us we must better manage any opportunity, it must be more sustainable with a deep consideration of its long-term effects, both negative and positive.
Countries can be defined by who gets the green light at an intersection and who doesn’t. And be it helmets, sea bed mining or Covid-19, the level of agreement by their population on those critical green light decisions comes into play, and can be measured in general elections when we all get a say.
The hope is that meaningful engagement happens well before an election and instead at the intersection where differing views meet, because sometimes, the consequences of turning when you should have given way cannot be reversed.
And sometimes those consequences to an economy, on our environment or a life of one we love, can be fatal.