UPA TANGI REKA (The Music’s Great!)



Upa Tangi Reka is a multi-layered documentary project currently in post–production that is unified by the recurrent thread of music as a site of cultural exchange. The story is located in and returns to the islands of Tahiti and Moorea in the south pacific, but also takes in specific locales in London and Australia. The film combines social history, twentieth century popular culture and original documentary footage, the latter focussing on a Tahitian ukulele and guitar street band from which the film takes its title. It is a multiple voice, associative documentary made up of a bricolage of family archive materials, found footage and sound and original video and audio to explore the multi-generational relationship between families across the Pacific.


There are three distinct points of entry into this project:

1. As a working jazz musician my grandfather, Les “Banjo” Savage, packed his guitar and sailed to Tahiti in the early 1930s. An extensive diary and detailed photographic scrapbook relates his experience of meeting fellow musicians and learning to play and sing Tahitian music, while at the same time exchanging his own musical knowledge. This constitutes one of the voices of the film.

2. In the twentieth century Tahiti continued to be a place where a series of repeated narratives were played out against the exotic backdrop of island life. In the cinema the ur text was Murnau and Flaherty’s Tabu, which could stand in for the contest between docu-fiction as the progenitor of the ethnographic or visual anthropology film pitted against the romantic, myth-making impulse of fictional cinema. This analysis considers the cycle of films either set in or shot in Tahiti, which includes John Ford’s Hurricane, the multiple versions of the ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ saga to the bizarre stylings of South Pacific. Alongside these filmic texts the representations of travel and tourism (postcards, advertising, “exotic” architecture and music) will locate Tahiti as a place of Western imagination and fantasy with all the attendant issues of the exoticization of Other and what Sturma terms “optical colonization”.

3. My own journey to Tahiti in July 2010 and the experience of recording a group of street musicians, Upa Tangi Reka and their exploration of traditional ukulele music. One of the other voices in the film documents a correspondence between Rahiti Maopi and myself, the group’s secretary and spokesman, which began with conversations on the sidewalk in Papeete and has continued via Facebook.


These two modes of investigation may appear to be at odds – a broad, exterior analysis of representations with an interior personal, documentary narrative – but the choice is designed to avoid the excesses of each mode. The first follows Said’s sage advice that every scholar (filmmaker) must locate himself/herself in relation to modes of address, methodology and an ‘affiliation’ with pre-existing works. In contrast social history places this author as a participant in a private dialogue involving real histories, people and places. It is hoped that this mitigates the tendency to generalise from either perspective, but also to question whether it is ever possible or desirable to claim the sometimes pre-supposed objectivity of the documentarian (and by proxy academic, family historian, et al).


This presentation will be media rich combining video (found & shot), stills (photos, slides, postcards, advertising material), and, in particular music, with the unique rhythms of Upa Tangi Reka showcased.


Some Key Texts

Greg Dening (1992) Mr Bligh’s Bad Language: Passion, Power and Theatre on the Bounty, Cambridge University Press

Alan Moorehead (1966) The Fatal Impact: The Brutal and Tragic Story of how the South Pacific was ‘civilized’ 1767-1840, Penguin Australia

Catherine Russell (1999) Experimental Ethnography: The Work Of Film in the Age Of Video, Duke

Michael Sturma (2002)  HYPERLINK “http://www.amazon.com/South-Sea-Maidens-Politics-Contributions/dp/0313316740/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1242056733&sr=8-1” South Sea Maidens: Western Fantasy and Sexual Politics in the South Pacific (Contributions to the Study of World History), Praeger


Some Key Films

Tabu: A Story of the South Seas – F.W.Murnau (with Robert Flaherty), 1931

Mr.Robinson Crusoe – A.Edward Sutherland, 1932

Mutiny On The Bounty – Frank Lloyd, 1935

The Hurricane – John Ford, 1938

South Pacific (Joshua Logan, 1958)

Mutiny On The Bounty – Lewis Milestone, 1962


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