Recording a Cuatro Master…in a McDonalds

Raul Landaeta & his daughter Vanessa performed for us in a quiet dining area at the popular fast food chain in Port-of-Spain!

We had arranged for a meeting with cuatro maestro Raul Landaeta at the Venezuelan embassy in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. The plan was to record an interview with him about the cuatro and have him show us a few things, maybe play a few songs. But we made one silly mistake. We didn’t check to see if the embassy had a dress code. Of course they did have a policy in place, and with temperatures over 90 degrees in the capital city that day, all three of us were in shorts, which was one of the things they didn’t allow in the embassy.

So we walked a few blocks in Port-of-Spain, looking for possible places to play some music, and found that the top floor of the local McDonalds restaurant was empty, air-conditioned, and pretty quiet! We asked to speak to a manager, who was more than happy to help, and just like that: we had the perfect spot to record Raul and his daughter Vanessa, who was accompanying him on the violin.

Here’s one of the songs we recorded, “El Pajarillo,” which really shows off the technical skill of young Vanessa, and the unbelievable talent of a cuatro maestro at work.

Robert Munro shows us ‘El Gavilan’ in Joropo and Parang

Cuatro player Robert Munro

ATWR visited the cuatro maestro Robert Munro at his home in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad to meet him. While sipping on rum & cokes, his apprentice and friend Dominic Thompson arrived for an impromptu performance of several songs, the last of which Robert showed us the way he originally heard the Venezuelan Joropo “El Gavilan”, and then plays his Trinidad parang rendition of the same song. Recorded in the fall of 2014. Robert Munro passed away in the spring of 2019.


Kaumaakonga reaches #1

Congratulations to our friends Kaumaakonga as they have reached number #1 on the Pacific Top 20 with their new album TAOBA.


KMK breathe new life into their Traditional Avaiki chants while combining traditional rhythms and percussion with panpipes, guitar and unique vocal harmonies. They rework and perform the chants and stories of their Polynesian forefathers, many which were previously forbidden and at risk of disappearing completely due to the effects of colonization and religion reaching the shores of these small islands.

We met Kaumaakonga in the Solomon Islands and made field recordings of two songs at the Botanical Gardens in Honiara. listen here;

Kaumaakonga – Tongo Pupua (Field Recording)

Watch Kaumaakonga perform the song ‘Ngibao’;

Swing with the Strings on SIBC

See the Silianifuto String Band perform, “Kadamanga Ba Goro Hafali Ruana”

I first heard Swing With the Strings live broadcast on SIBC radio in Honiara while in a taxi heading home for the night.. I loved it so much I recorded what I heard through the radio!(listen below)

Jack and Anna sing on SIBC (recorded off the radio)

The next morning I visited the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Company to learn more. There I met Roland Koofuli, the host of the live weekly broadcast of ‘Swing with the Strings’. He informed me the lovely music I had heard was of Jack and Anna, two local musicians who came together that night for a rare performance. He kindly arranged for Anna Ramoni and a group, ‘Silianifuto String Band’ to play the next live ‘Swing to the Strings’ so that we could meet her..

Although originally from northern Malaita, Anna is active with several of the local string bands who also now live in Guadalcanal, but heard here is her Kai Kai String Band. As an extra bonus I was able to record this group on my last day in the Solomons. Kai means food in her native language and her band was started with fellow employees of the Department of Agriculture in Honiara.

Kai Kai String Band – Ko Visu Mai

Stages of Change – ‘Tou (Help)’

Stages of Change is a project that aims to use community theatre as a vehicle for reducing violence against women and increasing women’s participation in civil society and peace-making in the Solomon Islands. We caught them in a rehearsal and they sang a beautiful song for us “Tou”, which means “Help”, a song to call for assistance from peers to overcome adversity.

Stages of Change in Honiara, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands

The key aims of the project are to:

  • establish a sustainable  national Women’s Theatre Company with a group of Solomon Islands women, selecting 15 women to take part, who represent a broad cross section of the nine provinces across more than 900 islands that make up the Solomon Islands archipelago
  • create a performance work and tour around the main islands in the Solomon Islands in 2014
  • write radio scripts written by local writers mentored under the project, will be created for broadcast
  • teach creative training techniques will be used in workshops offered directly to women who are survivors of domestic violence.

Film Presentation at the 45th ICTM World Music Conference

We are thrilled to be presenting our documentary ‘TRIP REPORT SOLOMON ISLANDS’ at the 45th annual Ethnomusicologist conference in Bangkok, Thailand. If you happen to be at the conference this year, we hope to see you! This film will also have its USA premier at the Rhode Island Film Festival this coming August.

Andrew Murphy at the 45th annual ICTM World Music Conference, Bangkok , Thailand

Behind the Scenes | Nepal

Shooting 16mm film in Kathmandu

Simply put, I am never going to travel abroad again without the Canon Scoopic in my bag. Sure, it’s by far the heaviest part of my gear, weighing in around 8 pounds, not including the strange battery charger. But it’s worth it. And with Kodak re-releasing their beautiful Ektachrome stock this past year, I’ve never been more excited to shoot motion picture film!

In Kathmandu, we woke up just after sunrise and hit the streets around Patan Durbar Square, trying to capture life in the morning of this unique part of the city. Using wild sound we recorded with the Zoom H6, I was able to cut together the below short video. The music was performed for us by local musicians in a bar in Thamel.

I also shot a couple of 100 ft loads of color film, of which we are currently using in the longer documentary film about the music of Nepal. Shout-out to the best lab in the world, Cinelab, who have been processing and scanning my adventures in film since I was a grad film student at Boston University. (It’s been awhile.)