George Telek

đŸ· Singer and musician from Papua New Guinea

This week, Ecléctico is globe-hopping below the equator. Today we visit Papua New Guinea.

"Sonny" by George Telek
(2004)


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200 World Albums: From the opening drumbeat of the first song, Sonny, I knew I was in for a treat. In fact, just looking at the album artwork you know something good is coming. It’s such a beautiful photo of George Telek in traditional garb looking directly at the camera with a determined expression on his face. It’s incredibly evocative and easily one of my favourite album covers of our journey so far, and it also shows a musician proud of his background.

Telek himself is a member of the Tolai people of Papua New Guinea, and speaks the Kuanua language, which is one of an astounding 851 languages found in Papua New Guinea. Though the most widely spoken language in Papua New Guinea is an English creole language called Tok Pisin, Telek still sings in his native language for the most part (though he does sing in Tok Pisin too at points) which to me shows a determination to express the diversity of language in Papua New Guinea.

This album, Amette, is particularly pertinent to this point. It was his most acoustic album to date, and incorporates traditional Tolai songs, rhythms and musical styles, including string band music and three-part harmonies. I also greatly admire his persistence in singing in Kuanua, even though the temptation would be to sing in English to appeal to a wider audience. I should add there’s nothing inherently wrong with doing that at all, but it can lead to a musician not expressing themselves as they would in their native tongue – think Shakira’s endearing but odd lyrics on a song like Whenever, Wherever.

There is a clichĂ© that in great specificity there is universality, and I would wager it is a clichĂ© because it is broadly true. By singing in a language that only around 60,000 people can understand, and singing with sincerity, he bypasses the need to be understood by a person like me – the emotion and feel of the song is made more than evident.