The Wondrous World of Leweton Women’s Water Music

Leweton Women's Water Music - Photo by Lucy Anne, courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board
One of the most fascinating acts of the 2011 edition of the Rainforest World Music Festival was Leweton Women’s Water Music. The all-female group hails from Gaua in the islands of Vanuatu, a South Pacific nation. During the press conference it was pointed out that Vanuatu is considered the “Happiest country in the world.”

The line-up includes Claudia Frezer on water percussion and voice; Cecelia Lolonun on water percussion and voice; Delila Frazer on water percussion and voice; Mary Wavales on water percussion and voice; Rosal Wavales on water percussion and voice; Cecelia Wari on water percussion and voice. “The right hand is the rhythm. The left hand is the beat,” said the group during the press conference.

Leweton Women's Water Music at Sarawak Cultural Village - Photo by Angel Romero
The women use their hands and water as a musical instrument, producing a wide range of sounds. The performers need a body of water to perform their music and dances. During the festival they used the lake located in the middle of the Sarawak Cultural Village. They also performed at the swimming pool at the official festival hotel, Santubong One Hotel.

Leweton Women's Water Music weaving their dresses at Santubong One Hotel - Photo by Jill Turner
The Leweton Women’s Water Music traditional outfit is made of arm bands and headwear made from flowers and leaves. For their performance in Sarawak, the women selected large leaves and flowers from the nearby gardens and created their dresses.

During each performance, the Leweton Women’s Water Music wade into the water up to their waists and stand up in a half moon formation. The group’s leader gives a signal and the palms of their hands slap each passing wave. Their hands move closer to their bodies and then away again. The water is beaten with both hands, creating various sounds and dances including “The Sound of Thunder”, “Big whale Fish Playing with Small whale Fish”, “Cascade Falls”, and “Waves Breaking on the Reef.”

Leweton Women's Water Music at Santubong One Hotel - Photo by Angel Romero
The music and dances evoke the sounds their ancestresses have lived with for thousands of years. The crescent formation reflects the way the women have worked standing in a semi-circle at the water’s edge, or in the river, washing and bathing and collecting shellfish.

Vanuatu is a ‘Y’ shaped archipelago of 83 volcanic islands in the South Pacific, in an area that is known as Melanesia. It is located about 1,750 kilometers east of Australia. Fiji lies to the east, New Caledonia to the south, and the Solomon Islands to the northwest. The ladies of the Leweton Women’s Water Music come from the remote, northern tropical islands of Vanuatu.

The islands were discovered by Spanish explorers and colonized by France and Great Britain. The two largest islands in Vanuatu are Espíritu Santo (also known as Santo) and Malakula. The population of Vanuatu is 94% indigenous Melanesian.

Leweton Women's Water Music - Photo by Jill Turner
As you can imagine, Leweton Women’s Water Music can only perform where there is a body of water such as a lake, river, swimming pool or the sea. However, playing on stage is not discarded. An american videographer present at the festival gave the performers the design of a system that would allow them to play on stage.

This was one of the group’s first performances outside of Vanuatu. Before playing in Borneo (Malaysia), Leweton Women’s Water Music performed in Australia.

Read the whole Rainforest World Music Festival 2011 series:

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