Beginning in the 2010s, a musical movement throughout Melanesia that protests the colonization of West Papua, and, to a lesser extent, New Caledonia, developed. Decolonization music tends to be created at the grassroots level, with artists utilizing social media and other Internet platforms to share their music. A noteworthy component of this genre is that while the primary focus calls for West Papuan independence from Indonesia, the artists come from states throughout the region. The varied origins of decolonization music vividly show the strength of Melanesian Solidarity on this particular issue.
In considering lyrics from popular decolonization songs, it is evident that the most common themes discuss kinship throughout the region, West Papuan independence, and the distinctiveness of Melanesia from Oceania as a whole. In a popular 2011 dance pop song, “Melanesia” by JJY, the opening lyrics state:
South sea island of PNG (beautiful people)
Torres Strait Islands
Fiji (together we are)
Me-melanesia, we are
The upbeat tone of this song combined with lyrics that qualify which countries comprise Melanesia serves to show regional solidarity. The mention of West Papua as part of Melanesia reiterates that these artists see West Papua as separate from Indonesia. By including West Papua in this way, the artists can display solidarity with West Papua without explicitly calling for its independence.
Other songs, such as “Blood Tears” by Pyramid Crew, indicate their support for West Papua much more explicitly. Towards the end of this song, the artists begin a chant that states, “Free West Papua.” In addition to the production of decolonization music, fans of songs take it upon themselves to make videos to accompany these songs. This particular video includes footage of protests about West Papuan independence, the performers playing their instruments, and clips that show violent situations endured by West Papuans. “Blood Tears” clearly criticizes Indonesia for continuing to colonize West Papua in ways that other songs in this movement do not. Musically, however, this song does not sound particularly angry. The instrumentation involves traditional flutes and drums, and the melody is rather calm and repetitive. The negative emotions are conveyed through the lyrics and the accompanying video.
“Melanesia my homeland” firmly displays solidarity with West Papua and expresses an interpretation of the boundaries of Melanesia. Published anonymously, the first verse states:
Melanesia my homeland
Melanesia my future
We stand united
Our land is so rich
From Fiji to Kanaky
Vanuatu and Solomons
West Papua and PNG
And the chorus follows:
We stand united
We call on you Melanesia
Come free our land
Come save our people
West Papua mi laikim yu (I love you)
West Papua ples mama karim mi (place where my mother bore me)
West Papua tanah ibu (land of my mother)
The lyrics clearly display the message of the song. By viewing West Papua as connected to Melanesia and as “our land,” the artist calls to Melanesia to work to “free” West Papua. A call to action, this song functions primarily as a political statement.
Another example that explicitly supports West Papua is “To the West” by Andrew Faleatua. This piece also emphasizes the kinship within the region, as the lyrics emphasize ‘the blood of our own line’ and ‘Pasifika.’ Throughout the song, a female voice repeats:
Can you see the broken dreams
To the west to the West Papua
The tears of blood raining down
To the west to the West Papua
Lest we forget the blood of our own line
Lest we forget all the roots of the tree
Lest we forget we wail when the ocean cries
Lest we forget Pasifika yeah
Although musically different from the previous examples, “To the West” evokes a similar emotion to “Blood Tears.” The tempo and melodic lines of the two pieces show pain, but still remain hopeful. “Melanesia” contrasts the other two pieces as the most upbeat.
The significance of the decolonization musical movement comes from the variance in artists and the grassroots nature of its production. While popular artists may also produce songs that fit into this genre, many artists simply make their music and upload it to platforms like SoundCloud. The tradition of music lovers to create videos to accompany songs they enjoy also increases the accessibility of this genre.
Despite the grassroots nature of the decolonization movement, some sentiments are mirrored in government actions. For example, in 2016, “seven Pacific Island countries – Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Tonga, Nauru, and Palau – raised the issue of human rights violations in West Papua at the seventy-first United Nations General Assembly.” The government action in this example shows that reactions to West Papua are not relegated to the citizenry, but transcend into government actions as well.