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TraditionalPrior to the arrival of Europeans a Samoan musical ensemble would have seemed somewhat limited by todays standards. There were just two instruments in use; the pate, a hollowed out log drum that comes in various sizes, and the fala, a rolled up mat beaten with sticks. In addition to this was the human voice. This limited range of instrumentation had no effect on the importance of music in Samoan life. Because there was no written language many stories and legends were propogated through song and the complex rythmns from the pate are essential in the performance of many Samoan dances. In fact in many dances, the dancers themselves add to the rythmn by clapping their hands, and dependent upon the way in which the hand is held produce a range of different sounds.
Following the arrival of the Europeans the diversity of instrumentation vailable increased dramtically, but two instruments were developed that are now synonymous with Samoan music, the sielo and the ukele. The sielo is a stringed instrument made from a broomstick, or similar object, attached to a largish box, bucket or other object that acts as a sounding board. A single length of string joins the top of the stick to the box, which plucked to produce a sound similar to that of a bass.
The ukele is a small guitar like instrument but with only four strings. It can be found in two forms, one which is like a miniturised guitar, the other where the body is made from half a coconut shell.
ContemporaryThe music scene in Samoa is dominated by international pop and rock groups but there is also a thriving domestic music scene. Many of the night clubs have their own bands, The Mount Vaia Band, The RSA Band, for example and the major hotels have bands of talented employees how put on a fiafia for visitors. Some of these bands have become so well known that they tour Australia and New Zealand, where there are significant Samoan and Polynesian communities.
Two of the most popular Samoan groups, sadly no longer performing, were the Golden Ali'is and The Five Star. But perhaps the most famous home grown musician is Jerome Gray, who's song "We Are Samoa" has become an unofficial second national anthem.
Since there are many Samoan communities around the world it is not suprising that there is a Samoan rap group in the United States, The Boo-Yaa Tribe who achieved brief worldwide fame. The Samoan Sisters, based in New Zealand became frequent visitors to the television screen in that country. More recently a group with Samoan connections and based in New Zealand, Te Vaka, have achieved a worldwide record deal with A&M records.