In 1992 when Rabaul’s home-grown band, Barike, recorded and released the song, ‘Wan Kantri’, it became a national smash.
The song, penned by a collaborative effort between the band’s late bass guitarist, Glen Low and guitarist, Donald Lessey, hasn’t grown old.
But its impact reached far beyond the 1990’s disco scenes; which lead vocalist of the song, Kanai Pineri, called it a masterpiece that will live through many generations of Papua New Guineans.
“It was a unique piece, written by Glen Low, and Donald Lessey and I helped him (Donald) piece it together,” said Pineri.
“Glenn wrote the song about a journey that began in Ragaga in the Baining area (East New Britain Province) and ended in Namatanai (New Ireland Province). From Namatanai, Donald and I added a few more lyrics and continued with the journey from Namatanai to Kavieng, to Manus, Madang, Lae and all the way to Kutubu which at that time, was a newly established oil project in the Southern Highlands Province”.
25 years since its release, the song still hasn’t lost its taste in almost every Papua New Guinean household. With an easy-to-follow geography recount of some towns in the country and a catchy chorus, it’s a memorable tune.
Within the PNG music culture, Wan Kantri is one of many Barike’s legendary songs that pointed the way forward and blazed the music path for genres that talk about life, politics, culture and the Bougainville Civil War.
Barike was formed in 1981 by five members, the late John Wong- lead vocals/ guitars, Donald Lessey- lead guitars, late Glen Low – Bass, Matalau Nakikus – Keyboard/vocals and, Fabian Tadoi on drums.
The band started recording in 1982 in Rabaul town with Greg Seeto at his Sound Stream Studios, which later became the Pacific Gold Studios (PGS).
“ When late John Wong left Barike to be solo in the late 1980’s, Barike was idle. They needed a singer. So they asked me if I could sing for the band,” Kanai said.
Kanai, with a razor sharp voice guided the band from 1988 until 1994, when the twin volcano eruptions destroyed the Pacific Gold Studios, which has been the home of Barike all throughout its musical journey.
But that didn’t stop Barike from reuniting in the years that followed the volcano eruptions.
The band recorded a new music album, Frek Tasol, which included numerous makeovers to their old songs, including Wan Kantri, using more advanced recording equipment.
Wan Kantri has remained a hit single from the band’s total of six recorded albums.
But not only did Wan Kantri has thousands of lovers both in the country and abroad, it is also a controversial song too, when National flag carrier, Air Niugini used it as a jingle for its commercial advert.
“ There was an contract between Barike and Air Niugini. I am not aware of it, as I have partly left the band to concentrate on recording gospel songs. And that contract apparently caused disagreement between us,” said Kanai.
But that didn’t stop the band, from time to time, to get together and sing Wan Kantri at live gigs during special occasions.
“ In 2015, I sang Wan Kantri during PNG’s 40th anniversary celebrations in Port Moresby for the first time in a very long while. That day, I was on stage alone. Other Barike members were not there. But I believe that I can get the message out through our song,” said Kanai.
“ Between 1991 and 1992 when we wrote and recorded the song, our aim was to send a message to every Papua New Guinean and promote peace, unity, oneness. And I guess we have achieved that”.
Kanai, now a reborn Christian, has recorded several other solo gospel albums. But he never turned his back on Barike.
“ John and Glen have passed on. It’s just me, Donald, Fabian and Matalau who are still here. I know we may have differences amongst us, but they are still my brothers. We are Barike,” he said.
Even now, long after the band has remained partly dissembled, there are still thrills shown by Papua New Guineans that claimed Barike’s song, Wan Kantri, was far more important and lingering than any other song sung by music bands from the past and present.