Small Island Big Song by Small Island Big Song (Album Review)

An ambitious eighteen-track project recorded "in the field, from the grassroots up'" on various islands across the Pacific and Indian ocean, Small Island Big Song is a beguiling document of some of the world's most criminally underappreciated musicians. Music producer Tim Cole and project manager BaoBao had a vision to document the most well-regarded musicians in the parts of the world which are under increased threat of disaster due to the climate crisis. Entire worlds, languages, and cultures are liable to extinction at the hand of globalization and the ignorant greed of capitalism. Thankfully, someone had the idea of recording the tunes. People unfamiliar with the variety of roots music may yawn at the premise, but will be treated to many different styles across the compilation, ranging from romantic acoustic songs (Pemung Jae) to more rhythmic sections, the chants of which manage to sound more sincere and fun than most Western hip-hop could hope for (Gasikara).   

All tracks benefit from being recorded in natural environments. The birds and fields of the islands are as much a feature of the recordings as the instruments and voices. Alie Sike features a joyous melody sung deftly over rhythmic acoustics, and a rooster. The rooster, however, does not seem at all out of place. This field recording aspect of the album is what gives it its strength. The songs aren't deadened with studio soundproofing, nor are they overproduced, with clarity taking precedence over impact in the mix. Dewi Sri sees Gus Teja perform an absorbing and moving collaboration with birds and crickets. The multi-tracking method used, with different artists contributing to different tracks, gives a communal feel.

Kwin Pototu is an addictively fun one-minute burst of schoolyard singing and whimsical wind instruments. Ke Ha'a la Puna is a fascinating vocal piece featuring Kekuhi Kealiikanakaoleohaililani singing masterfully over abstract percussive blows. There is a relentless pursuit of variety on display.

Vanuatu, Taiwan, Borneo, Papua New Guinea, and Madagascar are just some of the locales featured on this well-intentioned documentation of cultures that share a geographic kinship. As far away as Madagascar and Taiwan are from each other, this project manages to identify and showcase what brings them together; a connection to the land, ocean, history, and a natural expression of the soul through music. 


Small Island Big Song (Album Review)
Reviewed by Jay Honeycomb on February 13th 2022
Rating: 5