Blasius To Una
Blasius To Una (born 1925) was a musician from Papua New Guinea. He composed hymns in his language Kuanua. He has been described as "probably the first Papua New Guinean music personality to receive attention from a wide public".
The following information was supplied with a recording made in 1977 by Frederic Duvelle in Port Moresby. This 33rpm vinyl long playing record #LRF030, entitled "Blasus To Una - Guitar Songs of Papua New Guinea," was produced for the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies by Larrakin Records Pty Ltd NSW Australia.
Blasius To Una Turtavu was born on February 2nd 1925 at Paparatawa village in the Kokopo sub-province of East New Britain. Only two months after he was born, his mother died, and his father, a Catholic Priest, took him to Vunapope Convent. So Blasius was brought up by the Sisters. In 1933, they sent him to Milmila Catholic Mission in the Duke of York Islands, and he attended primary school there until 1938. Then he returned to Vunapope and lived with his father until 1941. He was in Vunapope when the Japanese Army invaded New Britain, and in 1942, he was unwillingly recruited by the Japanese as an interpreter. During this time, he had to teach Japanese soldiers Melanesian Pidgin and Kuanua (the Tolai language), and he learned some Japanese which he still recalls today. Towards the end of the war, suspected of sympathy towards the allied American and Australian Armies, he was jailed and condemned to death by the Japanese, but was eventually freed by an American pilot. Blasius was very happy when the war ended, and after a few months as a patient, because of an injured leg, he started working at the Nonga military hospital and became a doctor's driver in 1947. Since then he has always retained the same occupation and is today working with the Department of Transport in Rabaul.
Blasius To Una first picked up a guitar in 1946. He borrowed it from a brother in law for 5 shillings. At this time, his salary was very low and he could not afford to buy his own instrument. Nevertheless, later in the year he managed to buy himself a ukulele, and started his musical career. His first composition in 1949, was a series of four hymns, one of which, AURA TURANGAN I NODUP is included in this record. (Side one, Track five.) Then, he composed regularly, not only hymns, but also High Masses, ballads in his own Kuanua tongue, and humorous and satyrical songs in Pidgin. Blasius To Una is very popular in the Gazelle Peninsula, and also all over Papua New Guinea, particularly amongst Pidgin Speakers. He has been a regular participant of the Tolai Warwagira Festival, held annually in Rabaul, and he took part in the Port Moresby Arts Festival in 1974. He has also performed at numerous social occasions in his home province. Although Blasius is frequently heard on the radio, it is the first time that an L.P. record of his work is being published. Blasius To Una is a complete musician. He composes both the music and lyrics of his songs, he sings, and he plays the guitar.
On this record he is backed by three of his sons, Hironimus, Antonius and Ludovicus. Blasius To Una finds his inspiration in a lot of different areas. He can sing about the sun or the moon, about his country and his people, about love, about death, or about his favourite vegetable. His music is popular and Blasius is very concerned about the impact his poetry has on the public.
Blasius' imagination and ingenuity are fully recognised amongst the Tolai people of East New Britain, and he is often commissioned to compose songs for a particular occasion or purpose. His two latest songs were both commissioned: A UMANA BEO was written for the women of the Kabaira Vocational Centre to perform at the 1976 Warwagira Festival in Rabaul, and Blasius' most recent composition, IAU LUS MAN TAKODO (Side two, Track seven), was written on June 15th 1977 for a leader of the village of Nodup where Blasius now lives.
Although Blasius To Una's music obviously owes very little to the Tolai musical traditions, it is interesting to note that he has not found himself completely isolated from their traditional musical organisation. Individuals and community groups sometimes commission songs from him for quite traditional occasions; some people now even prefer his style to more orthodox Tolai music. This record attempts to show the different faces of Blasius To Una Turtavu's creativity through the 28 years of his musicallife. Humorous and satyrical songs in Pidgin, like FOPELA LEK (Side One, Track four) or KUNAI DUMDUM (Side two, Track three), ballads in his own Kuanua tongue like IAU ABUL RAMALMAL (Side two, Track four) or AMARI NA RA VIAN (Side one, Track two) and in English like LONELY EVENING (Side two, Track six). Blasius To Una might make you feel sad, but in the next song, he will cheer you up and really make you laugh. At fifty three, Blasius is still full of energy, and very much in love with music. Maybe that is what makes it very difficult not to fall in love with the man and his guitar.