Benny and his family play traditional West Papuan music as the Lani Singers.
Music and dance has always been a key component in West Papuan culture. In life and in death, ceremonies and in private, music is the binding force amongst the people. Although the styles of music differ from coastal communities to those in the highland regions, the main elements remain the same, as do many of the instruments, which are predominately string based. The arrangements are usually based around improvisation.
The lyrics and harmonies celebrate the mystery and natural beauty of Papua, retell traditional legends, impart knowledge and wisdom, lament, laugh, rage, speak about the ordinariness of daily life, and the struggles and joys of relationships.
The Lani Singers were formed shortly after Benny and his family arrived in the UK, as a way of celebrating and preserving Papuan culture – for the Indonesian regime have outlawed traditional music and cultural practices in West Papua. Benny plays ukulele, his Maria plays acoustic guitar, and their children play a variety of traditional instruments including the Papuan tiva drum. The band have played at music festivals in the UK including Glastonbury, Musicport, Port Eliot, the Mayor of London’s Thames Festival and Celebrating Sanctuary. They have also performed live sessions on the ‘World Routes’ show on BBC Radio 3 and on DJ Ritu’s ‘A World In London’ show on BBC Radio London.
In 2009 they were invited to perform at Poland’s leading world music festival, Globaltica, in the Baltic coast city of Gdańsk. The Lani Singers have also performed as special guests of English Heritage for the UK Summer Solstice at Stonehenge, with a performance in 2009 when over 30,000 people attended the celebration.
The Lani Singers released their debut album, Ninalik Ndawi (Freedom Song), in November 2008 through the UK label Dancing Turtle Records. Recorded over a two year period, the collection of songs that make up Ninalik Ndawi are reflective of the remarkable journey that Benny and Maria have travelled. Steeped in the rich traditions of the Lani tribe as well their own contemporary compositions that are reflective of their plight. These are their songs of hope, love and pain. These are their songs of freedom.
The album was produced by Engin Hassan, and featured guest appearances from British musicians Roger Harmar (fretless bass) and Nick Radcliffe (slide guitar). The Guardian newspaper described the album as ‘a gently haunting, rhythmic set that results from a remarkable personal story, and a little-reported struggle‘.
In 2013 the Lani Singers released their second album, Ninalik Arirak. By now the band had evolved to include all of Benny and Maria’s children. Up to the present day they continue to perform live across the UK and Europe, using the power of music to spread awareness of the plight of their people.
Their music has been played on radio stations across the UK and in cities around the world including San Francisco, Montreal and Melbourne.
A song called ‘Papua Merdeka’ featuring the Lani Singers alongside Afrobeat legends Tony Allen and Dele Sosimi was released in 2020 on a new album called Keleketla! The album is an expansive collaborative project, reaching outward from Johannesburg to London, Lagos, Los Angeles and West Papua.