KELA KAPKORA SIL BOLKIN | Supported by the Phil Fitzpatrick Writing Fellowship
The band was humbly born in the Minj area of the Jiwaka Province in December 1973. The founder was a self-taught musician who started with a ukulele in 1963.
Pat Siwi (pictured) was only 18 years old when he started the band and since then he has become a household name.
He is now among PNG’s top music icons, just like the late John Wong, George Telek and Henry Peni. His Wahgi Hellcats also sits comfortably among other top bands like Barike, Painim Wok, April Sun and Sirosis.
In the 1960s, young Pat had a very close friend, David Peri, who was a half caste Simbu-Sepik.
Pat and David attended Minj primary school and soon realized they both liked music. At the same time, they found one of Pat Siwi’s cousins, Siwi Muruk, who was also half caste Simbu-Sepik and who also liked music.
Pat, David and Siwi officially came together and formed a band in December 1973. They named it the Wahgi Hellcats.
In those nostalgic days Pat was the main vocalist and played guitar. David was the harmonist and played bass guitar. Siwi had the drums perfectly under control.
They started playing around clubs using borrowed instruments. Most of the equipment was borrowed from the University of Technology where Pat was an architecture student from 1971 to 1973.
Since the birth of the Wahgi Hellcats many other musicians have come and gone, but the band has satisfied the test of time.
Siwi Muruk was a bit of a humbug and Pat had to keep an eye on him all the time. Fortunately, Pat was a natural leader and he kept the group together and the legacy they left in the highlands and the PNG music industry stands head to head with other consistent performers like Barike, Painim Wok, April Sun and Sirosis.
Pat Siwi’s leadership abilities were not a fluke. He is from the Enduga tribe of the Simbu Province and his mother is from Enga. Pat’s mother is from the first sister; Peter Ipatas, the proactive and popular veteran Enga Governor, is from the second sister. And Daniel Kapi, a former MP, is from the third sister.
“I thought I was born before my time. There was no music industry in PNG when I started,” said Pat.
I probed him about the song New York City and he said Tony Cristi, an American friend, gave him the lyrics. “Cristi and I composed the song only to test our market value abroad,” said Pat.
Years later, the younger generation spread a rumour that the Wahgi Hellcats band was heading to New York and had composed the song on the way. “I’ve never been to the US so it is a lie,” he said.
Pat did his last live performance in 1988 and then settled down to build a recording studio. In 1991 he launched the Kumul studio in Goroka and started recording a few of the individual musicians and bands throughout the country.
Then around 1999, with DJs, DVDs, CD burners and discos proliferating, he knew the studio was not going to make money. The devaluation of the kina also reduced his profit margin so he closed Kumul studio. His competitor, Pacific Gold Studio, shut its doors at about the same time for the same reason.
“Anyhow, I am still doing music to raise money, especially for charity. I flew down from Goroka to play at the Crown Plaza to raise funds for Team Simbu to travel to East New Britain for the PNG Games,” Pat said when I met him outside the Papuan Rugby league club house that evening as he was on his way to the Crown Plaza to do a live performance.
The tickets were sold for K500 per person and that night alone they raised more than K114,000 for Team Simbu.
December 2013 will mark the 40th anniversary of the Wahgi Hellcats band and Pat Siwi and its members are planning to release an anniversary album. All the songs will be in English. They will also travel to the major cities in PNG for live grand performances.
Pat Siwi has a different view of Chin H Min’s current promotion of PNG musicians through the EMTV Mekim Music shows. He prefers more live performances from PNG musicians. According to Pat live performances are real music. What we see on EMTV is ‘lip sinc’ - miming.
“For all musicians, their real worth and expertise is tested during live performances. At the moment they look great on TV but unfortunately they don’t give the fans the same taste and feel that you get with the manoeuvres during a live performance.
“Furthermore, the musicians at the end of the TV shows go back to the ghettos and live in rags. It is a fraud.” Pat is adamant that PNG musicians should step up and make more money from live performances.
Pat Siwi is not confident about the future of the PNG music industry and has called for government intervention by way of legislation and policies. He thinks the Institute of PNG Studies should expand beyond recording traditional songs to also house and coordinate the contemporary PNG music industry.
“In that way, the music industry can also have technical management capacity to formulate policies to contain the threat of music piracy and blue toothing.
“Then again, even if we make laws, who will enforce them?” he asks. “The answer to this could put off potential young musicians who wish to ply their trade. It is a wedge that has splintered the PNG music industry into shambles and chaos.”
Pat agrees with Markham Galut, Ratoos Gary, Tony Subam and Pius Wasi - who are also top Papua New Guinean musicians, dancers, actors and comedians - that PNG artists need to produce music using more traditional sounds to break into the international market.
The contemporary PNG artists according to these veterans are all ‘copycats’ and using too much rap.
Pat Siwi laments that he has met a top PNG musician lately who moaned that he could not make money like he used to before due to piracy and blue toothing. Should musicians who want to make money have to move out of PNG and increase live performances, he wonders.
In the meantime, the fans of Wahgi Hellcats band should start saving their money to purchase the 40th anniversary album come December 2013. Surely there will be live performances too.
I feel that Pat is absolutely overdue for a knighthood from the Queen of England or a Logohu award from the fat cats.
PNG has a tradition of awarding the Queen’s honours and Logohu awards to club boys and pedestal leaders.
Pat is truly a servant leader who has contributed immensely to music over almost four decades. Hence, it is only fitting for Pat Siwi to be honoured by Misis Queen, just like George Telek.