The Betels and Tropical Soul, August 7, 2000
When I first heard a cut from SERIOUS TAM, I told my wife that this is what the Beatles would have sounded like today had they been allowed to live and to evolve from the 1970's to the 2000's.
Curiously, the liner notes reveal that George Telek loves the music of the Beatles, and his initial stop when visiting England for the first time was at that famous Abbey Road crosshatch, where he had his photo snapped.
Each of the sixteen songs here has a hook, just as most of the Beatles' hits, and each builds a distinctive soundscape from its unique collection of instruments (including the impressive bass drumming of a pounded split log which reverbs like God's foot-taps into your living room!) and melodics, many of which involve the New Guinean snake-like weaving of a third voice among two fixed harmonies. The result is danceable, joyous, and the most compelling World Music I've heard this year.
The diversity of lyric experimentation on SERIOUS TAM makes it a CD which one can listen to again and again without getting bored, always finding a new layer while enjoying the already noticed ones.
Telek supposedly chewed betel nuts as a child, and the ensuing mystical experiences helped make him a mystical songsmith. Betel nuts or not, Telek is a superbly talented musician whose songs will bring you energy and joy. Highly recommended!
Barnes & Noble
The imagination reels at the thought of pop music from such a place as Papua New Guinea, and on Serious Tam (meaning serious crush), singer/guitarist George Mamua Telek throws the senses into overdrive. Tropical birds toss out melodies with abandon, while insects click and buzz their rattles. Ukuleles outstrip guitars, traditional and log-slit drums are mixed with the rock band's trap set, and keyboards add symphonic and atmospheric textures. Most striking are Telek's three-part vocals, with two voices in harmony and the third snaking around the others. Several of the tracks tell of exotic enchantments. "Midal," which describes a painted leaf meant to charm a woman's affection, features springy surround-drums, a twangy drone, magical whispers, and cries of delight. The high vocals, sometimes in falsetto, twine like perfumed vines. Most pieces are just as high-spirited and lyrical as this one, with buoyant plunks and plinks, invigorating drum rhythms, and Telek's delightfully curly vocals, which mix his native language with English. There are darker moments, too. "Boystown" is backed with an ominous ambient drone and the haunting wailing of electric guitar. "Lili" laments that "You are dead and will not come back to us," with labored spirit breathing and somber echoes tangled in a ghostly netherworld. The sound of walking through water makes it seem like the singer is trying to follow the dead. For the most part, however, Telek joins with bassist Glen Low, percussionist Ben Hakilitz, and keyboardist David Bridie to exalt in the spell of everlasting love. A rejuvenating listen.
All Music Guide
The most interesting dynamic of Telek's Serious Tam is that it's on Real World Records. The label, co-founded in 1989 by Peter Gabriel and WOMAD (World of Music Art and Dance), provides global artists with the access to state of the art recording technology and audiences beyond their region. George Telek originates from the village of Raluana, near Rabaul on the Papua New Guinean island of New Britain. Telek was an already established artist on his native island and had recorded several albums before Gabriel asked him to record for Real World. Translated, most of the songs on Serious Tam are about the common themes of daily life and passionate love. This a definite global pop album with an ethnic twist. Serious Tam's tribal drum sounds and simplicity will take the listener to a better, more serene place.
Diana Potts, All Music Guide
TELEK - SERIOUS TAM
Single Review by EDF
© 2000 PHASE9.NET MAGAZINE
Hailing from Papua New Guinea, Telek has brought with him a unique blend of acoustic guitar and ancestral drums such as the garamut and the kundu mixed in with his three-part harmony.
In his younger days it is said that George Telek chewed a sacred betel nut that opened his dreams to ancestral stories that influences his songs.
MIDAL tells the tale of the tanget leaf which its magic powers are used to gain a woman’s affection. The title track tells of his undying love while on IAMAGIT he has a woman on his mind. It’s good to know that this sort of problem is felt worldwide.
Differently though we have BOYSTOWN which was originally featured on the soundtrack of the same name for the documentary about crime gangs in the region. On WAITPELA GRAS the subject is all about banana skins. Honest, it’s a rough translation as the songs are sung in both the Tolai language of Kuanuan and in a Creole called Tok Pigin.
This is an impressive album that takes you away from it all. As always a top quality product from the Real World stable. Check it out.
by Martin Kemp
· From Peter Gabriel’s Realworld label.
· Draws from the culture of Papua New Guinea’s Tolai people.
The first thing that comes to mind after examining this and past Telek albums is that his CD art is very, very cool. Dangerous stuff for those who have the impulsive habit of buying CDs based on the covers. Happily, the depth of this CD goes beyond the artwork.
George Telek Mamua comes from a Raluana village in Papua New Guinea. His sound is characterized in Nigel Williamson’s notes as "essentially acoustic, with gentle guitars underpinned by ancestral drums such as the kundu (with an hourglass shape) and the garamut (massive slit logs)." With lyrics sung in the Tolai language of Kuanuan and a Creole tongue called Took Pisin, Telek happily creates music that transcends classification. Jumping around the musical map, this recording features an unconventional yet intriguing mixt of instruments, including ukulele, bamboo flutes, conch shell, a variety of percussion and, according to the liner notes, "loops and stuff." And at least two of his songs feature cricket sounds – you can’t go wrong with crickets.
With the addition of expertly mixed percussion, guitars, keyboards and rich harmony vocals, this album is definitely not acoustic in the traditional sense of the word. While it is subject to some of the overproduction characteristic of many releases on the Realworld label, the traditional roots of Telek’s music manage to sneak through.
George often talks about stringband songs being loveletters. That a man will come up to him in the village and ask him to write a song letting the woman of his fancy know that he has feelings for her. Almost like songs for hire. The songs are very village based. This album of stringband tunes details a wide variety of relationship situations of the Moab's poromen (equal men). This album centres around Raluana, close to Kokopo, near Rabual in the Papua New Guinean province of East New Britian. The Moab Strinband is one of the most highly regarded stringbands of PNG. This has much to do with the fact that their lead singer, George Telek, is a very well known performer in his own right. Famed as a rock singer in the band Painim Wok and for his solo records, his international recordings mix traditional world music with rock and stringband styles. The Moab style is much pacier and rockier compared to other more lilting stringband styles. A centrepiece of the Moab style is the bass playing of Wargi Apelis who is held in high regard in both PNG and Australia.
The lyrics to these songs are sung in Kuanuan, the local language (tok ples) of the Tolai people of Rabaul or Tok Pisin, the lingua franca of PNG.
Telek is a band, a man and, in some parts of the world, a legend.
Telek the man has been at the forefront of the Pacific music scene for the last 20 years. The new album 'Amette' is Telek's third album and marks eleven years of international recording and touring from this artist. The list of international accomplishments is indeed impressive.
George Telek is a grassroots man. He comes from the village of Raluana, near the volcano-ravaged town of Rabaul in the Papua New Guinean island province of East New Britain. His songs and his hauntingly beautiful yet sometimes menacing voice, traverse many musical styles. Equally comfortable with the unique country/folk that is the PNG string band style, traditional Tolais "Midel" (magic charm) and "Malira" (love magic) songs, Beatle-esque pop/rock or atmospheric Massive Attack style grooves and textures. Few musicians inside or outside PNG straddle the range of styles that Telek both adopts and combines, whilst capturing the spirit of the proud cultural heritage of the Tolai people of Papua New Guinea.
Telek began singing in the late seventies with various string bands before joining rock band, The Kagan Devils. The first breakthrough came with the rock group Painim Wok (it means "looking for work"). 3 singles in the PNG top ten at the one time attest to the phenomenal popularity of the group at its height. Featuring the wild guitar of leather-clad John Warbat and George Telek on lead vocals the hard rocking Painim Wok were PNG's biggest selling act in the 80's, coming out of the thriving Rabaul music scene on the Pacific Gold label. The chance to reach a wider audience occurred in 1986 when David Bridie from the Australian band Not Drowning Waving came to PNG. "I'd bought some of his cassettes and fell in love with his voice and songwriting. When I met George, we talked about working together and I knew I wanted to assist in getting his music heard outside Papua New Guinea", recalls Bridie. He returned two years later with Not Drowning Waving to record an album with George and other Papua New Guinean musicians - including internationally renowned drummer Ben Hakalitz from the Sanguma Band (currently with Yothu Yindi, and has guest performed with Santana, and Los Lobos, amongst others). The album they made together, 'Tabaran', was released in Australasia in 1990 - the first popular collaboration between Australian and Papua New Guinean musicians. David Byrne declared in the US edition of Rolling Stone that this was his favorite album of the year.
Telek was then invited to tour Australia with Not Drowning Waving in support of 'Tabaran'. From this, Telek gained the attention of Peter Gabriel and was invited to appear at Womadelaide in 1992. At this time George forged an alliance with Australian Aboriginal artists such as Archie Roach and Kev Carmody.
In 1995 Bridie offered to produce an album for George. The album was recorded in Melbourne and in Rabaul and featured long time friends and musicians Ben Hakalitz and Glen Low as well as new friends Kev Carmody and Archie Roach. In 1997's 'Telek' was released. The album went on to win an ARIA for 'Best World Music Album' and was labeled 'The Best World Music Release this Year' by Rolling Stone.
For his second album ('Serious Tam') George was invited by Peter Gabriel to record at Real World Studios in Bath, UK. The band consisted of long time collaborators Ben Hakalitz on percussion, David Bridie on keyboards, fellow Papua New Guinean Glen Low on bass (from the popular Barike Band), Greg Patten (My Friend The Chocolate Cake) on drums with Phil Wales (Snog, David Bridie) and John Phillips (Not Drowning Waving) contributing guitars. The album was co-produced by Vic Coppersmith Heaven (produced all of The Jam's albums) and Bridie. It was the first album to be released in the Northern Hemisphere by a PNG artist and ensures Telek's rightful place as the foremost Pacific music artist.
A tour of the UK, Europe, the USA and the Pacific followed. The tour included all the Womad Festivls and Telek earned the admiration and respect of fellow artists such as Yousou N'dour and engaged in improvised performances with Yungchen Llamo (Tibet) and Ayub Ogada (Kenya). Highlights of this tour included performances at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London, playing to 10,000 on the main stage at Reading, being chosen to lead off the Grande Jam at the closing of Womad Seattle with a solo vocal performance to 20,0000 people, and headlining the festival at the picturesque Jean Marie Tjibaou amphitheatre in Noumea.
'Serious Tam' was greeted with acclaim and sold throughout the world. The album was voted 'Best Pop Album of 2000' in UK's The Times which also wrote "One phenomenal song follows another... Telek's voice on its own is a thing of rare beauty...a magical album".
Worldwide, the reviews were glowing:
"One of the coolest things about world music is that your next big surprise can come from any little corner of the planet. 'Serious Tam' is a perfect example" - Billboard
"A finely wrought synthesis of the world and pop-rock genres" - LA Times
"This indigenous music will stir you with its timeless beauty" - New York Post
"Atmospheric… jungle sounds and pulsating drumbeat…brooding rock" - The Age
"This is a refreshing mix of hip western sounds and the uplifting harmonious voices of a people proud of their culture" - Audiostreet.co.uk
"Whether in sparse semi-acoustic settings, chanting over pounding and complex percussion, or telling stories in fields of ambience, Telek is utterly compelling" - Rolling Stone
"It is a crime that world music fans in Australia have ignored the music of our immediate area. This marvelous record should go a long way to putting Papua New Guinea on the international music map" - Sydney Morning Herald
George has said that Telek the band helps him "paint another kind of picture about PNG compared to the usual view from the outside world which is one of Raskols and corruption". His standing in the Pacific has remained as honored as ever. Awarded an MBE by the PNG government for services to music, Telek this year was asked to play at the celebrations for the one year anniversary of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands. The response from the local population was phenomenal, the band setting attendance records in the Solomons (10-12,000 in Honiara), people walking 100 kilometers through jungle to some concerts, and PNG fans from Bougainville journeying by boat from their homeland to see their compatriot play. The significance of the genuine collaboration between Melanesians and Australians, particularly when developing and expanding traditional material was hugely appreciated and inspiring to the local population.
The story has continued with numerous further tours throughout Australia and the Pacific and the recording of his new album 'Amette' the third album by Telek (released on The Blunt Label through Shock Records) recorded in Australia and PNG. The album 'Amette' was recorded at David Bridie's Enormodome studio in Melbourne in March of 2003 and mixed by Not Drowning Waving's Tim Cole. The album sees a slight departure from his previous two efforts focusing on the more acoustic side of Telek's writing, featuring a mix of string band, Pacific roots pop and traditional Tolais songs. The result is more instant and stripped back but still very Pacific in sound especially three part harmonies, kundu drums and guitar work. Highlights include the rocking string band numbers "Paska", the instantly appealing "Sonny" and "Mama", a lament for PNG's Melanesian neighbors "West Papua", the moodier title track "Amette", and traditional "Lima Ngalie". Two tracks "Abebe" and "Typist" have been lifted off the Moab Stringband's 1986 Pacific Gold recordings, full of energy and documenting the amazing Rabaul sound of that period renown throughout the Pacific.
Telek, the band, was formed from a musical and personal friendship between Telek and Bridie and a continued sense of real and rare collaboration with all the musicians concerned. It is a collaboration that stretches back to the late 1ate 1980's and continues today.
Post Courier Article on the Ramsi Solomons Tour
Telek’s music history in Honiara
THE Solomon Islands Music Federation surprised itself a week ago when
it organised the most successful outdoor live music concert.
That was when Papua New Guinea’s renowned international recording
star George Mamua Telek performed to the largest crowd to assemble for
a musical event in Honiara.
The Telek band performed for more than an hour to the huge crowd —
estimated to have peaked at 10,000 music lovers — who packed the
Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara on Saturday, July 31, to draw to a close
the official program of events celebrating the first anniversary of the
work the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands.
The Honiara concert was the final of a four-city-tour by the Telek band
that comprised Barike bassist Glen Low out of Rabaul, Australians David
Bridie, of Not Drowning Waving, versatile music performer Phil Wales,
drummer Greg Patten (well known for his performances for the John Farnham
band) and Aussie import sound engineer Rob Miles, who has previously worked
with popular band Hunters and Collectors.
The outfit was complemented by Honiara’s own music stars Robert
Forman and Arnold Natei.
“The concert in Honiara was the best and greatest I have ever played
and the crowd was fantastic and very responsive,” said the Rabaul
superstar in Port Moresby this week. “Every song I performed was
greeted with cheers and great appreciation, but that’s not to say
the performances at the provincial towns were not great.”
Telek had travelled to the Solomon Islands at the invitation of RAMSI
to take in the celebrations that our soldiers and their commander, Commodore
Peter Ilau, government officials and a media contingent attended.
Post-Courier deputy chief of staff Gorethy Kenneth, who attended the Honiara
concert, said the Solomons people received Telek very well.
“He was received and treated like a king, and he made us proud as
Papua New Guineans,” said Kenneth.
A RAMSI spokesman, in correspondences to this column, said the celebrations
ran for a full week, from July 24-31, with events being staged throughout
the country and the Telek concerts commenced partway through July 28.
“In all provinces, local organisations were working alongside RAMSI
to put on events such as soccer games, bicycle races, the RAMSI rotary
run, canoe races and a whole host of other events staged by the local
communities,” said the spokesman. “And Telek performed in
three provincial locations — Gizo in the Western Province, Auki
in Malaita Province and Avu Avu in Guadalcanal Province as well at the
music milestone performance in Honiara which closed the program of celebratory
Our only international recording artist used the Quality Motel in Honiara
as home and his base from where he travelled every morning to the provincial
concert venues by military helicopter and returned to the capital every
evening by the same mode of transport under close security.
“I know the close security provided by the organisers and RAMSI
was not necessary but I appreciated it and it made me feel a bit like
Michael Jackson going on stage,” laughed the buai-chewing singer
The RAMSI spokesman recalled this week how on Wednesday, July 28, more
than 2000 people flocked to the Kennedy Stadium in Gizo, named after former
US President John F Kennedy who commanded Torpedo boats in the Solomon
Islands waters in World War II, to hear Telek’s music.
Small as the crowd may have been, the Telek band performed for about an
hour from a repertoire that included such classics as North Coast Bay,
Happy Island Girl and Namuka Ramatam.
Part of the Gizo entertainment included a superb performance by Native
Stonage, whose songs are popular in PNG and local Tamara dancers.
Ronnie Baouka, of the popular Unisound band, performed minor miracles
ensuring the Gizo crowd heard a first-class act to celebrate RAMSI’s
birthday in style.
“As the band started up, young students from a nearby school poured
onto the field to have a closer look at the international music stars.
The smiles on the faces of the youngsters told the story as they grooved
along to the island tunes,” said the RAMSI spokesman who accompanied
the Telek band acting as official reporter and photographer. “The
young people who attended the Gizo concert were enraptured with Telek’s
haunting melodies and rock beat.”
Some of the crowd had travelled to Gizo from as far away as Bougainville,
especially to hear their wantok live on stage.
Despite the fact that Weather Coast in Guadalcanal is synonymous with
the notorious Harold Keke, Telek, mild and meek an entertainer as he is,
bravely went there on Thursday, July 29, and performed to a crowd of more
than 800 fans who attended the Avu Avu Friendship Festivus, some of whom
had walked from villages 70km away.
The band was welcomed and officially received by eight chiefs from the
area and greeted by a local pipes band that in turn entertained the visiting
But prior to the Avu Avu concert, the visiting musicians joined locally
posted police officers from the RSIP, Australia and Vanuatu in a frantic
match of football against a team comprising local chiefs and elders.
Not that I would be one to vouch for Telek’s soccer prowess, but
I’m sure the football match was a showcase of his and his band members’
sporting skills. But the match proved that, as footballers, the visitors
were fine musicians. Indeed, the Chiefs defeated them 1-0 with a finely
taken long range shot.
The following day, Friday, July 30, Auki Town in the Malaita Province
came to a standstill in the afternoon when 3000 people flocked to the
Auki Primary School grounds where the band took to the stage and performed
to an excited crowd, closing the events there that featured among other
sport, a men’s and women’s touch football match — a
game I heard Telek particularly argued strongly to enter but missed out
as the men’s team already had more than enough players.
Australian Deputy High Commissioner in Honiara Anita Butler and Premier
of Malaita Reuben Moli officiated at the festivities and immensely enjoyed
the band’s performances where Telek sang more of his PNG hits of
At the Honiara concert, on Saturday, July 31, Telek attracted the largest
crowd seen in the capital for a music concert.
PNG music’s recipient of the Queen’s MBE award thrilled the
10,000 strong crowd at the Town Ground where he also encapsulated the
approach of RAMSI, telling the crown that it was important neighbours
in the region came together to help each other in times of need.
“Iumi saem kaen (we are equal),” Telek told the crowd in perfect
Solomons Pidgin. “Iumi blong wan salt water (We are from the Pacific).”
Before Telek was introduced on stage, RAMSI congratulated the people of
Solomon Islands for their hard work over the last year and thanked them
for their support of RAMSI.
Telek then shifted into entertainment gear and had a time of his life
playing songs from his eight PNG albums and a selection from his three
“The crowd just kept calling for more, especially requesting that
we repeat Happy Island Girl which the band quickly rehearsed and performed
time and again,” said Telek. “And so they should, it is rightly
their song, one that I wrote while on the flight to Port Moresby after
my last tour of Honiara in 1993.”
Reflecting on the Honiara concerts, the star thanked RAMSI special co-ordinator
Bruce Edwards and Ms Butler, Australian people and the people of Solomon
Islands for their invitation and confidence in him.
“Everyone that had a role to play in the organisation of the concerts
co-operated well, were very helpful and I wish them all the best in the
peace process,” said Telek. “Music is a very effective ‘bel
isi’ avenue to bringing all peoples together and a neutral means
by which to achieve lasting peace.”
Other bands that performed at the Honiara concert were AM rock solid,
Apprentice (who had toured PNG in the past), Bushman Culture, Fire N Ice
and UN Crew. These groups are also very popular in PNG.
Tok Musik wantaim JK and What’s On with Raitman congratulate George
Mamua Telek on being only the second PNG recording artist who had secured
the inclusion of a self-composed Waitpela Gras from the album Serious
Tam, on the original soundtrack of the Australian Movie The Alice that
had its world premiere-simultaneous-screening on Channel 9 Australia and
EMTV on Sunday, August 1.
Finschaffen born and raised, now Hawaiian based singer O-Shen at the end
of last year secured a Hollywood inclusion of his PNG recorded song Throw
Away the Gun on the soundtrack of Adam Sandler’s movie 50 First
Dates, shot in Hawaii.
George T and Glen returned to the country last Tuesday.
Wednesday 11th August, 2004
Torres Strait Island singer Seaman Dan's recent ARIA award was a timely
reminder of the world music treasures on our doorstep. Australia first
took note of George Telek's talent on Not Drowning Waving's landmark album
Tabaran, and Amette should help refocus interest in Papua New Guinea's
premier artist, who's the foremost exponent of PNG stringband music.
Telek's third international release — produced by his long-time musical
associate, Not Drowning Waving / My Friend the Chocolate Cake's David
Bridie, who plays keyboards in the band — focuses on the acoustic side
of his music. He performs songs in various stringband styles, all of them
characterised by the artist's gentle vocal delivery, mellifluous Melanesian
three-part harmonies, high strung guitar and kundu drums. Two key tracks
are renditions of 1986 recordings with the Moab String Band — ‘Typist'
(which has a vaguely Latin feel) and ‘Abebe'. ‘West Papua', a plaintive
plea in ‘Pigeon' for the plight of PNG's beleaguered neighbours, and ‘Amette',
a beautiful love song, have a different feel to the other tracks. Generically,
the music might best be termed as Pacific roots pop. It certainly makes
for pleasurable listening — as those who attended Telek's concert at the
Tanks Art Centre last Sunday will happily attest.
World-class sounds from the South Pacific
December 1 2004
Indigenous musicians such as Telek are woefully unrecognised,
writes Bruce Elder.
Since the formation of the Real World record label and the multimillion-selling
success of Paul Simon's Graceland in the 1980s, world music
has emerged from the most unlikely places in the past two decades. These
include Pakistan (Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan), Tibet (Yungchen Llamo), Senegal
(Youssou N'Dour) and Cuba (Buena Vista Social Club). World music has sold
millions and found its rightful place in the mixing pot that is popular
But what about the South Pacific, home to some of the finest harmony singing
on the planet? There's nothing quite like a Fijian or Maori church choir
singing hymns. Some high-tech production, new subject matter, an injection
of funky rhythms, and the South Pacific should have been a goldmine for
world music aficionados. That has never happened. There are no world-famous
musicians from Fiji, the Solomon Islands, the Cook Islands, Guam or Nauru.
Why? Probably because the countries that could have made it happen in
the Pacific - Australia and the United States - have shown little enduring
interest in world music.
The US has never produced a world-class Native American act and Australia,
with the solitary exception of Yothu Yindi, has largely ignored the potential
of indigenous musicians. If they couldn't be bothered doing it at home,
they certainly weren't going to try in the big pond that lies between
the two countries.
So what David Bridie (of the bands Not Drowning, Waving and My Friend
the Chocolate Cake, and numerous film and TV scores) has done for George
Mamua Telek stands as a solitary benchmark.
Telek hails from the small village of Raluana outside Rabaul in Papua
New Guinea. Like most of the so-called "traditional musician"
discoveries he was no overnight success. In 1986, Bridie took Not Drowning,
Waving to PNG. He met Telek, who by that time had already been in a local
rock band (Painim Wok), had released about 15 locally recorded cassette
tapes (vinyl melts in the tropics), had enjoyed huge local success and
was, within the music community of the Pacific, well known and admired.
"The music scene in Rabaul is very active," Telek says. "We
play a lot of places - pubs, dance clubs and festivals. We play in Madang,
Lae, Port Moresby. We've also played in the Solomon Islands and New Zealand."
Bridie realised that Telek's music deserved a wider audience. Bridie's
first experiment was to bring Telek's musicians into the studio with Not
Drowning, Waving to produce the delightful and deeply original Tabaran
, a synthesis of musical styles that worked superbly.
From that point, Telek's international career has been a gently curving
In 1992, he performed at Womadelaide and this resulted in Peter Gabriel,
who headlined the festival that year, asking him to play Womad festivals
in England and Seattle. He then released two albums, Telek (1997)
and Serious Tam (2000). Both were lionised overseas, with Rolling
Stone declaring Telek the "best World Music release
The reason is simple. Telek makes magical and accessible music, reaching
deep into PNG's string band tradition.
Telek has released a third album, Amette , recorded in Bridie's
studio in Melbourne.
THREES A BAND
Eleven years as an international recording artist has taken
Papua New Guinean George Telek to all corners of globe. But
with his songs in his soul, Telek is never far from his home
The sounds of his home feature heavily on his latest album,
Amette , which harks back to Telek's stringband
roots and mixes it with traditional Tolais song and Melanesian
sounds. And while Amette is the essence of George
Telek, it's very much a band project, featuring the talents
of George (vocals, guitar), and longtime collaborators David Bridie
(keys), Ben Hakalitz (drums, percussion), Glen Low (bass, stringband
guitar) and Phil Wales (guitars).
David Bridie, who co-produced Amette, says Telek's
third record sets things in concrete.
“This being a third record, it makes it
seem like it's quite an established act, which it is,” he explains.
“We've been touring around for about 12 years now as Telek.
Two records is like a project but three records is like a
“We actually recorded [ Amette ] last year but it's
only just come out. While we recorded the record last year
it's just been [a case of] waiting for the right time to release.
Obviously doing a tour is the best time to have a record out – and
a tour to support each other – and now seemed like the best
Bridie says the cost of airfares from PNG does restrict Telek's
touring. Fortunately, this time they've been invited to take part
in the Eureka 150 concert, just one event the Victorian government
has organised to commemorate the anniversary of the Eureka
Stockade. Such support has allowed Telek to string together
a full tour to present Amette to audiences, with
Bridie performing his own material in a double bill.
As Bridie explains, Amette is more instant than
Telek's eponymous debut and Serious Tam .
“The songs George had and the way they were recorded were
a lot more stripped-back. That's the way the songs felt, so
that's the production we went with. There's a lot of live
playing on it, so we didn't add too much to what was put down
initially. There were just a few little assisting production
“There's also more of the stringband stuff on there, including
a couple of tracks, ‘Typist' and ‘Abebe', that were off the first
cassette I ever heard of George's, a 1986 recording from the
Moab Stringband. It's nice to have them archived on CD. It shows
people where George has come from.”
As for Bridie's own work, he's been busy collecting ARIA and
AFI awards for soundtrack recordings but is starting to think
about his next solo effort.
“I've mainly been working on film stuff and a Planetarium
project but I've been starting to write. I'm a little way
off going into the studio but the creative juices are starting
to flow to get some more material happening.”
Bridie also has plans to release a DVD featuring the films
made for Act of Free Choice and Hotel Radio
and record a new My Friend The Chocolate Cake album mid-2005.
Telek and David Bridie play Joe's Waterhole, Eumundi
Wednesday Nov 16; Star Court Theatre, Lismore Thursday Nov
18 and The Troubadour Friday Nov 19. Amette is out
on The Blunt Label/Shock.
It's only open hands slapping something big and hollow, but the first
seconds of Telek's new record rumble in like code from another universe.
A bit like stepping off a plane where wet green things hang between low
clouds and black earth, it's an intoxicating moment that leaves our world
of concrete and pixels in suspension. On his third international album,
the singer-songwriter from outside Rabaul achieves a blissful evocation
of his home and culture with the subtle atmospheric enhancement of several
members of Not Drowing Waving, including cello player Helen Mountfort
and soundtrack composer David Bridie. Their contributions are empathetic
rather than controlling: Telek's tunes are perfectly accessible without
being filtered through western pop and it's the authentic feel of hand-hewn
string instruments that makes tracks such as Paska, Pidil and Typist –
a love song to a secretary – so fresh. The politics of repressed West
Papua are naturally addressed, but weightless songs of gratitude and community
are the rule. Telek's pidgin English and Tolais dialect are mystifying
in the best way: like the odd splash of laughter in the background, his
voice and rhythm carry a deeper level of meaning. From the extraordinary
texture of strings on Kerevat to the warm harmonics of the title track,
Telek's otherness is a gift that's hard to refuse.
Producers: Vic Coppersmith-Heaven, David Bridie
One of the coolest things about world music is that your next big surprise can come from any little corner of the planet. "Serious Tam" is a perfect example. Vocalist/guitarist/percussionist George Mamua Telek, the inspiration behind this album, hails from the island of New Britain in New Guinea. Give this one a spin, and you'll learn something about New Guinea you can't find in National Geographic. Telek's influences are a bit elusive, but one unexpected vibe is a distinctly familiar flavor to the guitars. Their tuning and timbre are a bit reminiscent of Zimbabwean chimurenga guitars. The vocal work, which is wonderfully melodic, relies to the great extent on harmony singing, and it's the principal stylistic element. The percussion playing is nuanced and involves widely different instruments. The songs speak of common experiences, love, and magic charms. Once some conventional, and not-so-conventional, Western instrumentation was added to this music, the arrangements emerged as a very appealing traditional/world pop fusion.
Serious Tam (Real World)
There's a story that, as a future singer-songwriter George Mamua Telek nibbled a sacred betel nut and bridged his dreams to the tales of his ancestors, provideing the inspiration for his euphonic, mellifluous music. That might sound far-fetched, but there's not doubting the ethereal quality of Telek's creations. Widely respected in his native Papua New Guinea, where he represents the heritage of the Tolai culture, Telek has also tourd extensively in Australia since 1990. But it wasn't until last year that he recorded Serious Tam at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios for a debut U.S release, collaborating with David Bridie of the now defunct Australian band Not Drowning Waving.
The finished product establishes Telek as the Deep Forest of Papua New Guinea. Swirling vocal harmonies, traditional Tolai durms (the hourglass-shaped kundu and the wooden, oblong garamut), acoustic guitars and Telek's own uplifting timbre forge a finely wrought synthesis of the world and pop-rock genres. The album opens with the unobtrusive thythms of "Midal", a sensual and charming work blended with background synth smoothers a la Brian Eno. "To Pol" and the title track sharply depart from the cool Melanesian beat the album opens with, bordering the lines of Dylan's earthy, acoustic melodies. The most memorable interlude is the lullaby "Tolili", a Tolai fisherman's tune consisting solely of Telek's kaleidoscopic voice and the sounds of the tropical forest.
Serious Tam hovers between the tranquil soundscapes of ambient music and twangy folk-rock for troubadours at heart, and is sure to propel Telek's name beyond the coral reefs o fthe Pacific. Difficult to categorize, perhaps it will be best known as the uplifting album essential for your Monday-morning commute. (Melissa Chan)
New York Post
Real World Records
When you live close to a volcano, sometimes you get splashed with lava. That's what happened to George Mamua Telek's hometown on New Britain Island in New Guinea. Despite the adversity, he still lives there and sings about island life - volcanoes and all - in his inspiring blend of pop and Melanesian rhythms. The music is basically acoustic - gentle guitars, native drums and vocal arrangements as glorious as those from the men's choirs of southern and western Africa. The songs are sung in Kuanuan and pidgin English, so take Telek's word for what the traditional (pre-Christianity) songs are about. Still, by the timbre of the music, it is easy to imagine these melody-rich songs being sung as accompaniment to daily life: a song to sing while fishing, one for picking bananas, another for coconut gathering. If you think that sounds a little beach-blanket pastoral, it is. To make these lullabies to dream to even more earthy, the recording is laced with night noise from the bush, sea and sky. What is remarkable is how much the human voice seems to be just another natural element on this recording. That is especially true on the fishing song called "Tolili." This is a risky disc, a musical blind leap of faith, yet if you believe we are all basically the same beneath cultural differences, this indigenous music will stir you with it's timeless beauty.
The Age Green Guide
CD of the Week
April 12, 2001
Serious Tam, which follows up 1997ís debut, Telek, was hailed by European critics last year but received scant attention here. Several tracks have been remixed from the first album but thereís no real excuse for overlooking this. Mea culpa.
The new CD, recorded in the creative environment of Peter Gabrielís Real World Studios near Bath, England, opens yet another delightful aural window on the warm, hypnotic music of our northern neighbors. Serious Tam is actually the third involving the Rabaul musical maestro George Telek and his Melbourne-based collaborator David Bridie (of Not Drowning Waving), who first brought us Telekís work in the seminal Tabaran when NDW went to PNG. Bridie co-produced with Vic Coppersmith Heaven (The Jam) this time around.
The more you hear this music, the more it slowly opens up, like some seductive tropical flower, emanating heady melodies with gentle subtly nuanced rhythms. The unique triple vocal harmonies interweave hypnotically ñ "We call it snaking the vocal" says George Telek. "The missionaries first brought us guitars, but the harmonies are natural." On top of all that is a Western pop consciousness (George also grew up hearing Beatles records) that somehow brings the whole sound full circle, expressed in a mixture of local Tolai dialect, Pidgin and English lyrics.
The catchy title number, with its layered guitar arrangements, is probably the most "commercial": a brief, simple ditty about commitment. Others to watch out for include the familiar, jaunty opener Midal (first heard on Telek): the atmospheric Buniak (Crying Bird) and Balamaris, with its jungle sounds and pulsating drumbeat; and the brooding rock of Boystown (used on the soundtrack on a documentary about PNGís "raskols").
One surprise was the omission of any song about Rabaulís notorious volcano, whose smoking silhouette looms over the idyllic beach scene on the CDís back cover. Incidentally, the version distributed here by Shock Records includes three bonus tracks (two live and one from Bridieís solo CD Act of Free Choice) not featured on Real Worldís 16-track UK disc.
The slumbering volcanoes of the Pacific islands add an obvious (if unwanted) element of surprise to these paradise islands. The simmering heat and stunning panoramic views are of great inspiration for George Mamua Telek, so much so that he's successfully combined his indigenous roots music with subtle western influences. Traditional chanting and acoustic guitars form the backbone of the island's style, with that 'big world' sound real world are so fond of extracting from its ever-growing army of artists.
The washes of Gabriel-esque guitar and watery sounds add to the audio image of wide expanses of deep blue sea, scattered with these lush islands laden with a wild colourful spirit. The thumping drum pulse of the opener 'Midal' also features the snake-like vocals of Telek and Ben Hakalitz, the melody overlapping and intertwining with the skill of these master musicians. Singing in the local Tolai language, Kuanuan and their home grown pidgin English - Tok Pisin - and English itself, this music straddles the indigenous and the familiar with ease.
The percolating electronic sounds and drum kit never trample on their organic sensibilities, adding a welcome lift and new dimension to this already beautiful music. The moody shadows of 'Bunaik' give way to the sunny strumming of the title track, 'Serious Tam', a calypso groove so infectious you'll need a jab to resist. This is a refreshing mix of hip western sounds, (the missionaries themselves introduced guitars to these island folk a couple of centuries ago), and the uplifting harmonious voices of a people proud of their culture.
However, by being so accepting of outside influences (apparently, they all love The Beatles), they've made a very special album indeed. (MF)
George Mamua Telek comes from the Papua New Guinean island of New Britain, and many of the songs on Serious Tam draw on the cultural heritage of his people, the Tolai, or on the repertoire of the popular"stringbands" of multiple guitar and ukelele players who tour the islands. But he and his band also bring a modern pop sensibility to their music, using not just traditional stringband elements and kundu and slit-log garamut drums, but also electric guitars, synths, loops, and samples.
Telek's voice has a pure, uplifting tone that somehow evokes the warm sun, sand, and waves of his homeland. Whether he's singing about a painted leaf used as a magic charm to win a woman's affections in "Midal" or "Go Ralom," or the all-too-seductive life of gangs in the capital city of Port Moresby on "Boystown," in his native Tolai tongue or in tok pigin (pidgin English), Telek's voice holds you spellbound 'til the song is over.
Probably my favorite song on Serious Tam is "Bunaik," about a bird that cries "oli oli i ole." The song starts with samples of bird and forest sounds recorded in Papua New Guinea, then launches into vocals, synth, and percussion, along with a serious drum groove and a raucous chorus that cries loud and long, just like the bunaik. But I also loved "Tolili," a traditional Tolai fishermen's lullaby to calm the sea and make the catch plentiful, with its samples of insects crying at night and Telek's voice rolling out like waves across the ocean, warm and strong and soothing. And I couldn't help but chuckle at "Waitpela Gras‚Äù's lyrics about how "the banana skin really shocks me," and its funky drum rhythms, shakers, and electric guitar.
The Age Green Guide
Origin (through MDS)
As another Womadelaide approaches (28/2 to 2/3), I am reminded of a highlight from the '93 event, when Peter Gabriel filled the stage with musicians from Africa, America, Australia, Europe and Papua New Guinea to help sing his ballad In Your Eyes. George Telek from Rabaul was up there, so were members of Melbourne band Not Drowning Waving and they went on to make an exceptional album together, Tabaran. Last year, they played at the "Sing Sing" concerts during our Next Wave Youth Festival, after which Telek recorded this intriguing, self-titled solo CD at Tim Finn's Periscope Studio. Although technically it's his Australian debut, Telek has been a major recording star in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands for 15 years fronting groups such as the Moab Stringband and Painim Wok (pidgin for seeking or finding work).
The new CD, produced with the help of NDW's David Bridie and John Phillips, plus a bevy of Australian and PNG musicians, blends Telek's stark ballads, haunting Tolai tribal chants, atmostpheric soundscapes of his New Britain homeland and rock arrangements.
The ballads cover universal themes - letters unanswered, trysts broken - while the spiritual chants tap a deeper source. The januty Melbourne City (co-written by Bridie) and delightful chorus and stringband on Abebe (Butterfly Spirit) are among the highlights, while Midal (Magic Charm) is beefed by a Gabriel-style percussion, keyboard and fuzz guitar mix.
* * * *
Producers David Bridie and John Phillips have created a vast and magical sonic environment for the songs of PNG's George Telek. He comes to the encounter with a mixed bag of traditional songs, rock and stringband music as well as years of performance experience in bands and as a solo performer, there and here. Haunting melodies sung in his own language bind the stylistic differences and make this a journey rather than an episodic collection of songs. Some of the rock elements as in "Melbourne City" tend towards the predictable and bland. But this is, otherwise, a flawless production.
Whether in sparse semi-accoustic settings, chanting over pounding and complex percussion, or telling stories in fields of ambience, Telek is compelling. Bridie and Phillips are two of our most able producers. They have the technical chops, of course. But more importantly, they have vision which is fuelled by their own work, but which is also sympathetic to the client. One of the best "world" releases, so far this year.
Sydney Morning Herald
Origin Records (through MDS)
Ever since Not Drowning, Waving's David Bridie wandered out of Papua New Guinea with the music which became the Tabaran album, there has been a fascination with Rabaul's favourite son, George Telek. Telek was a popular performer in his own right but his records were rarely heard outisde PNG. Now Bridie and his musical cohort, John Phillips, have gone into the studio to provide their production skills to a recording which sees George Telek singing a bunch of his own songs dealing with everything from tribal customs to love affairs and life in Port Moresby.
The magic of this recording lies in the way it mixes traditional and contemporary sounds. It is a triumphant celebration of the ower and beauty of Telek's songwriting and singing. Tracks such as Go Long Way Long Bush (a joint Telek/Bridie/Phillips composition) and Waligur Iau have an urgency and attack forged out of a rock music experience, but other tracks such as Iamagit, Abebe and Desi have a simple, traditional beauty.
Of particular interest are Melbourne City, a delightful vision of Melbourne sung in Pidgin, and Anoro, which combines ancient PNG tribal ritual with some ambient didgeridoo playing from Kev Carmody. This recording is one more demonstration of the magic of world music. Suddenly the cultural separation of the Torres Strait is removed to produce a fascinating combination of sounds.
It is a crime that world music fans in Australia have ignored the music of our immediate area. There is still no truly well-produced recording of the harmonising of choirs from Fiji or the Cook Islands. This marvellous record should go a long way to putting Papua New Guinea on the international music map.
Listening to the World
With Seth Jordan
A veritable cornucopia of new World music albums have been released in the last two months. So let's catch up on the current crop of global sounds.
It's virtually impossible for me to choose my favourite new album at the moment, because there are no less than three that have become utterly essential to my life the last few weeks.
....the Third album that's won my heart comes from Papua New Guinea's extraordinary GEORGE MAMUA TELEK "Telek" (Origin). With a dilly bag full of best-selling cassette releases and a legion of fans in his homeland, this is Telek's first Aussie release. He first came to attention in Oz when he featured prominently on Not Drowning Waving's ground-breaking 1990 album "Tabaran". Cultivating an ongoing relationship with NDW's David Bridie, their collaborations led to last year's "Sing Sing" concerts which featured Archie Roach, Ruby Hunter, Kev Carmody, a reformed NDW, and a variety of PNG musicians and dancers.
Expansively produced on this new album by Bridie and NDW guitarist John Phillips, Telek is given a warm environment, not unlike his Rabaul home, to showcase his quiet talents in. With plenty of guests onboard, Telek duets closely with Roach gets a didgeridoo push from Carmody, and a major kick from the strong drumming of Yothu Yindi's Ben Hakalitz. Meanwhile Phillips adds his customary stretched and distantly searing guitarwork, as Bridie layers in atmospheric keyboards and his own hoarse backing vocals.
With Telek's island tunes varying from sweet night lullabies to rollicking PNG stringband hoedowns, his pidgin lyrics create instantly hummable melodies, which highlight the obvious musical connections between PNG, the Torres Strait Islands, and the Aboriginal mainland. We are after all still connected under the sea! There's even a thoroughly delightful ode to chilly Melbourne town.
Bridie and Phillips' production work is flawless throughout and "Telek" is an album of great ambient beauty, uplifting spirit, and just plain good old fun. A little too early to start talking about being the front-runner for '97 Aussie Album of the Year? We shall see, I bloody love it!
The Betels and Tropical Soul
August 07, 2000
David Kleist Emmaus, PA USA
When I first heard a cut from SERIOUS TAM, I told my wife that this is
what the Beatles would have sounded like today had they been allowed to
live and to evolve from the 1970's to the 2000's.
Curiously, the liner notes reveal that George Telek loves the music of
the Beatles, and his initial stop when visiting England for the first
time was at that famous Abbey Road crosshatch, where he had his photo
Each of the sixteen songs here has a hook, just as most of the Beatles'
hits, and each builds a distinctive soundscape from its unique collection
of instruments (including the impressive bass drumming of a pounded split
log which reverbs like God's foot-taps into your living room!) and melodics,
many of which involve the New Guinean snake-like weaving of a third voice
Folk rock from Papua New Guinea? Well, why not. George Telek and his band
combine native log drums with the influence of '60s bands such as the
Beatles to create a sound that seems like splendid acoustic pop refracted
through a cracked African lens. At times the reference points are a bit
bizarre: in "Barturana (Duke of York)," the rhythm and chords
are reminiscent of Canned Heat's "Goin' Up the Country," while
the title track seems like a Tom Petty demo gone astray. But Telek's ideas
(wherever he gets them from) are well executed; the sound is familiar
yet with more than a whiff of the exotic. There's a power in the playing,
too, especially on "Buniak," which captures the feel of Telek's
homeland with the thick sound of the kundu and garamut drums. This is
a little gem of a record. --Chris Nickson
Go Long Way Telek
August 16, 2000
Kirk Colton Denver, Colorado U.S.A.
On this, Telek's second full length cd, the provactive singer with the
"magic" for writing songs has produced one of the most remarkable
pairings of "world" music and state of the art production made
this year. Telek's voice alone mezmerizes and seduces. What moods can
be found on this record. Starting off with the mysterious Midal. Continuing
with the joyous chanting in Waitpela Gras and ending with the somber yet
beautiful "Rirwon", Serious Tam will warm the soul. This review
wouldn't be complete without mentioning the work of David Bridie. David
has tried through the years to make Telek's amazing music available to
the world. Now through the help of Gabriel's real world, the dream has
been realized and all of us can reap the rewards. If you enjoy the more
textural elements on Serious Tam, Mr. Bridie's own brillant solo album
"Act of Free Choice" will also be sure to please.