All About Sorong Samarai

West Papua
Source : Twitter

What do you have in mind when you first hear ‘Sorong Samarai’? Sorong is one of the cities in West Papua. It is located on the tip northwest of the region. Samarai, on the other hand, is a small township in Papua New Guinea. It is located 2000 kilometers southeast on the lower tip of PNG.

World Music fans may have already known ‘Sorong Samarai’ as a band. This band consists of members from both—West Papua and Papua New Guinea. After all, they are still on the same island.

West Papua
Source : Wikipedia

Lost, Stranded, and Found

However, the story of this band did not begin with something happy. In January 2006, Yosua Roem was only 12 when he and the rest of the 42 West Papuan refugees fled to Australia. They later received visas from the country, which had sparked outrage in Indonesia for a while.

However, Yosua Roem and his brother, Sam, had no idea about the outrage. As children, all they both knew was their love for music and dancing. They started introducing dancing and music from West Papua until they later took up dancing studies from ex-Bangarra performer and professional choreographer, Albert David.

“Imagine us, two kids from West Papua, barely fluent in English, but always keen on dancing and music,” Yosua Roem stated, as quoted by The Australian on November 26, 2017. “Now we are connected to the Native Australians. We’ve realized that our dancing styles and music are almost similar to each other, which hint that we may be more connected to each other than we thought we would be.”

Their Performances On World Music Stages

Sorong Samarai first appeared in the Sydney Opera House in 2017. The Roem brothers performed alongside their mentor David Albert, another artist from West Papua named Ronny Kareni, a producer and ARIA nominator from Papua New Guinea named Airileke Ingram, and other artists from both places on the same island.

The show took on two separate populations as the whole theme—Sorong and Samarai—where two Melanesian entities live on the same island but with a border between them. The border has forced them apart, caused by the bleak history on the island.

Sorong Samarai later had more stage performances. In September 2021, they performed at the 9th Maleny Music Festival. They brought together rising stars and living local legends from both Sorong, West Papua, and Samarai, Papua New Guinea. The stage was filled with heavy beats of the drums and sharp lyrics sung. There were also haunting flutes and, of course, more dancing on stage.

Their latest performance was on WOMADelaide’s 30th Anniversary in March 2022. WOMADelaide is a global gathering in Adelaide, South Australia, where musicians and artists around the world get to perform on stage. The year 2020 was also the event’s last public performance before the lockdown began in 2020—due to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2021, the event was revived—despite the fact that they could only invite local artists and musicians. The travel restrictions had been the cause since the pandemic was still going on.

Sorong Samarai had shared the same stage with other artists on WOMADelaide’s 30th Anniversary in March 2022. There were various categories of performances at this event, like Australian Indigenous Artists, African Rhythms, and Sounds from Other Corners of The Globe.

Australian Indigenous Artists presented The Stolen Generation, who performed traditional and contemporary fusions consisting of songs, dances, and storytelling. There were also The Putbacks, From Arnhem Land, Baker Boy, and many more. African Rhythms presented the dynamic Ausecuma Beats, the Adelaide-based Shaolin Afronauts, and many more.

For Sounds from Other Corners of The Globe, there was Guatemalan musician Gaby Moreno who was also a Grammy Winner. She brought folk, soul, and blues on stage. There was also a Chilean guitarist named Victor Martinez Parada. With his two sons, Parada performed in a band called Martinez Akustica. There were more solo musicians from this part of the category that day. There was also a duo performance by The Twadros Brothers, Joseph and James.

Then what about Sorong Samarai? Airileke Ingram brought his entire crew to play log drummers, reggae beats, and alongside with dances, chants, flutes, and also other traditional percussions.

There were many musicians around the world performing on the same stage at WOMADelaide in 2022. It is also a huge relief that Sorong Samarai is still consistent with their love for music and their long-life mission to introduce Melanesian culture to the world. From the name itself already, Sorong Samarai has already represented unity. In this case, it is unity between West Papua and Papua New Guinea.

Although members of Sorong Samarai mostly live in Australia, they can never turn their backs on their roots. Hopefully, in more years to come, this band can keep on introducing the music from West Papua and Papua New Guinea to the world. After all, they are both Melanesians.