Life Onboard
A Soundtrack for the Sea: Tim Cole and Bao Bao Chen's "Small Island Big Song", Jul 17, 2018
Small Island Big Song members take a bow after their Peace Boat performance.
Four years ago, Australian music producer and filmmaker Tim Cole and Taiwanese travel-blogger Bao Bao Chen came up with an ambitious dream: a music project tracing the 5000-year-old roots of the indigenous Taiwanese seafarers who spread out through the waters around them. This project became known as "Small Island Big Song", a collaborative music endeavour aimed at uniting musicians throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans through a love of the sea, islands, and traditional cultures.

Yoyo Tuki, a Small Island Big Song member from Easter Island.
Peace Boat's 98th Global Voyage marks the second time Cole and Chen bring their unique music onboard the Ocean Dream. On the 93rd Global Voyage, Peace Boat assisted them in their quest to recruit more musicians throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans into their fledgling project. The Ocean Dream carried them to Madagascar, where they made contact with Sammy Andriamalalaharijaona, who has joined them onboard this voyage as a member of Small Island Big Song.

Charles Maimarosia presents a traditional instrument from the Solomon Islands beside Bao Bao Chen.
Cole and Chen have collaborated with dozens of musicians and artists for Small Island Big Song, five of which join them onboard the 98th voyage: Yoyo Tuki from Easter Island, Alena Ose Murang from Borneo, Sammy Andriamalalaharijaona from Madagascar, Charles Maimarosia from the Solomon Islands, and Ado Kaliting Pacidal from Taiwan. All of them are committed to preserving their cultural heritage by training in traditional instruments and styles of singing from their home regions. Other musicians they have collaborated with also appeared at their live concert onboard, projected on screen as the group performed.

Alena Ose Murang plays the sapeh, a traditional instrument from Borneo.
Musicians such as the Small Island Big Song members face unique challenges in committing to and promoting their work, which is essentially, as Tuki put it, "the opposite of mainstream." Murang, who is both the only person from her tribe creating traditional music full-time and the only female sapeh player, described the challenges she has faced in finding her way with sapeh music in the modern media landscape. Though modern media figures are taking an interest in sapeh music, they often told her in recording sessions that she lacked rhythm or was out of tune, which was disorientating for her as she played the instrument without any problems on stage. She said she has now reached a point where she has the confidence to correct them on such issues, as she knows they misunderstand how sapeh music is supposed to sound, being too accustomed to Western standards.

Small Island Big Song members are joined onstage by Peace Boat's Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassadors at the end of their performance.
Several Small Island Big Song members also described how the music they play makes them feel connected to their cultural history. As a child attending a typical Taiwanese school, Pacidal, who is from the indigenous Amis people of Taiwan, was sometimes rejected by other children because of her heritage, but came to love it largely because of her relationship with her grandparents. She now keeps the language she spoke with them alive by singing it on stage. Maimarosia described the instruments he trains in as "gifts from [his] ancestors", and how playing them is a form of showing respect to his ancestors. With Small Island Big Song, musicians like Pacidal and Maimarosia take these cultural treasures beyond the personal, and into the public sphere where outsiders can cherish them for their beauty as well.