CHRISSA SISTERS’ STRING BAND, THE LITTLE KNOWN BAND WITH POPULAR SONGS IN SI

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By Tahisihaka Andrew Dormans

Growing up as a child or a teenager in the rural communities of Solomon Islands in the early 1980’s, the most popular or familiar medium of information and source of entertainment available is the radio. At least in some of the households there were radios. Usually the members of the community would flock around the radio and listen to their favorite programs being broadcasted by the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC). For most of the people, Friday afternoons and Saturday nights were the real favorites. On Fridays the popular “Special Requests” segments would come on air in the afternoons. On Saturday nights after the “Custom Story” with Uncle Luke Susuta, the “String Band Hit Parade” would be the next favorite lineup in the program. I can bet that no one would dare to leave to their houses for the night until the “String Band Hit Parade” was truly over. The top ten (10) local songs for the week would be played in the order from number ten (10) to number one (1) on the SIBC top ten hits. Many of the old and local favorite songs were featured on the String Band Hit Parade every weekend. Popular household names like Moses Aru Graciano, Fred Maedola, Maworo String Band, Snow Cover, Fuaga Brothers and numerous other artists from all over Solomon Islands were featured in the popular radio program. Two of the popular songs at that time were the “Malaita” and “Usugani Le’a Tara’ina” from the little known group tagged as the “Chrissa Sisters String Band from Kwa’a village, West Kwaio of Malaita Province.

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Chrissa Sisters String Band was originally from Kwa’a village in West Kwaio, Malaita Province. The band itself and the great people behind it may not be popular like other local artists in Solomon Islands but certainly their two songs by any means should not be discounted and  claimed as unpopular on the national airwave, the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC). The two songs were simple but popular that they captured the heart of many Solomon Islanders. In a recent interview with Isaiah Suru, one of the band members who actually played the Ukulele, he revealed that they actually recorded ten (10) songs with Late Claudius Horiwapu of Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) at his residence at Kwa’a village in one of the years either in 1978 or 1979 as he recalled. There were five members in the band at that time and it included Isaiah Suru, Claudius Samu and the three sisters Elizabeth Kofa’e, Mary Asunta Sufai’a and Martina Sufai’a. Suru during the interview took the opportunity to acknowledge the involvement of the Late John Ale who was instrumental in composing the “Malaita” song. As I interviewed Suru about the “Malaita” song, he excitedly confirmed that the song actually has four verses. Unfortunately, they did not record the other two verses. They only recorded two of the four verses including the chorus with the Late Claudius Horiwapu. I smiled and enquired why? He responded accordingly and stated that that they were in a rush to record the songs. The Malaita song was not quite completed. Claudius Horiwapu had arrived and they were scheduled to record the ten (10) songs. It was just a quick decision and they had to setup pretty fast for the recording. Yes, it was a song about Mama Malaita, Suru enthusiastically shared the story during the short interview. The other two verses described the northern and the Southern part of Malaita Island. Unfortunately, the two verses were not recorded.

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Naturally all the band members were singers in their village, Kwa’a. But they never really got to imagine singing together as a band and the fact that they were eventually recording their songs. When they were asked to sing for the recording, the three sisters grouped together with Samu and Suru himself and put on the show, he excitedly recalled. The only instrument they played was the Ukulele made from the “Taba’a” or Tapa’a tree. There were two ukuleles’. Samu played the strings whilst Suru did the strumming just as they used to do in the evenings at Kwa’a village. That was the simple life then, Suru vividly recalled. Elizabeth, Mary Asunta and Martina did the popular vocals heard on the radio. Elizabeth was the lead vocalist whilst the other two provided the support vocals. It was their natural voices, they were awesome and could naturally sing.

The second popular song was written and composed by Suru in the Kwaio language, a love song titled “Usugani Le’a Tara’ina.” Literally, the song title means “Good Morning Today”

When I called Suru on the phone at his home village, I was excited when he confirmed that one of the three sisters was present and she was available for the interview. Unfortunately, the other two were not available at that time. As soon as the phone was handed to Elizabeth, I introduced myself and my intention to interview her. I could hear her excitement on the other side. She introduced herself as Elizabeth Kofa’e. I quickly informed her that I have the recent photo of three of them. Where are you in the photo, I asked? She made sure that she was not mistaken. I am on the right with the black hair, she giggled. I immediately recognized her from the picture. Elizabeth was not a popular person as she was a village girl and could only sing in their village, Kwa’a. She and her two sisters grouped and performed the songs as the songs were familiar to them. Nothing was special or extraordinary for her and the two sisters. After they recorded the ten (10) songs, that was it, they went on with their lives in the village. Later Martina Sufai’a married to a man from Kwalakwala village in East Kwaio, Malaita. Mary Asunta Sufai’a was married in to a man from her own village at Kwa’a. I paused and posed to her the next question, are you married? She laughed and told me that she never married. “Mi no marit, mi Sista nao, mi waka lo Siosi” I am not married, I am a Sister and I work for the church. I only nodded in agreement with her.

Would you be able to sing again? You sang beautifully those two songs. Yes, I can, but it was in the younger days when we sang, she laughed. She will sing again if requested, but nowadays she only sings in the church with the little children. I asked her if she also played the ukulele, she only sang and her uncle (Isaiah Suru and relative (Claudius Samu) actually played the ukulele’s for the recording.

The name “Chrissa Sisters String Band”, how did it came about? What was special about it? According to Suru, actually it was “GIRISA” and not CHRISSA as it was officially tagged by the recorder, the Late Claudius Horiwapu. He joked, “Ating hem man lo Are’are so hem nao olsem ia” The recorder had it as Chrissa possibly because he is from Are’are. The slang “girisa” is used to describe a person claiming something that is not quite true about him or her or an exaggerator. As Suru puts it, “olsem taem man no kaikai pikpik bata hem talem hem kaikai pikpik tu bae mifala say goheti girisim or sugam” The name was inspired from the fact that the band was going to record when they were not quite ready or really established as a performing band. It was just raw recording. I would put it like that at least. But the “Malaita” song and Usugani Le’a Tara’ina would prove to live on for the last 33 years.  Today these two songs had made it to YouTube and they both can be accessed online. A huge appreciation to the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) for their invaluable digital library that kept secure the songs for the enjoyment of today’s listeners.

It is a sincere hope, that the members of this little known band “Chrissa Sisters String Band” are recognized for their work and natural artistic ability for presenting a simple song that is increasingly being referred to as the “Malaita” song today. In some ways this promotional article is hoping to achieve that as well as recognition for the band members for contributing to the music industry in Solomon Islands by sharing this story with others. Generally, people think of Malaita Island when they hear this beautiful and simple song performed with the golden and magical strings of the ukulele.

Who knows, but there is contemplation about the possibility of recording the full version of the “Malaita” song sometimes in the near future. With all the members of the band still around chances are high and it is not hard to materialize if all the planning goes on well. Having the full version of the Malaita song is not a bad idea at all.

Whilst trying to get contact with people behind this group, I was also privileged to get the lyrics of the songs “Usugani Le’a Tara’ina” from my good comrades from Malaita. The lyrics for the Malaita song, are provided by Suru

It is my great pleasure to leave you with the lyrics of the two songs from Chrissa Sister’s String Band and hope you will enjoy listening and singing along.

USUGANI LE’A TARA’INA

  1. Usugani le’a tara’ina

Manatalamu no’ona e kotofi’o mola

O iria fagu o eno bole nau

Ma inau na manatalagu ame rugasi’o no’o

Chorus

Ku dau suria labegu lei

E ato maka ato akui esi nau amu

O arisi nau ania nono’oilagu

Ngai lei ato akui laribonosi’o no’o

  • Fata lamu fagu e kwala’imori no’o

Ma osi masaria manatalamu mai agu.

To’oru odo mola fa’inia wanemu

Kwaimanga kotokoto lei osi manada’inia.

“GOOD MORNING TODAY”

  1. Good morning today

Your thoughts lie to you

You told you dreamt about me

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And I, my mind cannot leave you.            

Chorus

I feel my body

It’s hard for me to swear at myself of you.

You woke me up with kissing me

That’s why I cannot forget you.

  • Your words to me are true.

But don’t spoil your thoughts on me.

Just stay true to your man

Don’t think about this false love and friendship.

Chorus

I feel my body

It’s hard for me to swear at myself of you

You woke me up with a kiss. That’s why it’s hard for me to forget you.

“MALAITA ISLAND”   

  1. There’s a home sweet home, where I belong to. The beautiful land that I know. It’s so dear to me, my beautiful island. The beautiful isles of Malaita

Chorus:

Malaita Island so blue against the sky

I am so proud that I belongs to you

Malaita Island so blue against the sky

That’s the wonderful isles of Malaita

  • If you look to your left, you will see mount Alasa’a. With the clouds surround around it like its nest. To your right you’ll see the towering peak of Tolobusu. That’s the wonders of this isles of Malaita

Chorus:

Malaita Island so blue against the sky

I am so proud that I belongs to you

Malaita Island so blue against the sky

That’s the wonderful isles of Malaita

Acknowledgements

  • Isaiah Suru/ Interview
  • Elizabeth Kofa’e/Interview
  • Chris F Wale/Photo
  • Joseph Ma’ahanua/Lryrics & interpretation of Usugani Lea
  • Isaiah Suru/Lyrics/ Malaita Island
  • Vinnie S D’Guy/Contact & Information Support

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