Small Island Big Song is a multi-platform project featuring over a hundred musicians across 16 island nations of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, creating a contemporary and relevant musical statement of a region in the frontline of cultural and environmental challenges.


We know that climate change is the biggest threat to the world we have been blessed to live on, and I’d like to think that all reading know that it isn’t a hoax. When the producers of the project, Tim Cole and Taiwanese partner Bao Bao Chen, became aware of how potentially damaging the issue could, and is, to the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions of the southern hemisphere, they set out on a mission.

Their mission involved a three-year journey around 16 islands in the Pacific and Indian Ocean, and recording indigenous musicians in natural settings. Cole writes on the the project:

Back in late 2014, I was in Australia’s remote Central Desert listening to a faint crackling radio signal of the latest IPCC report on the BBC world service. That was after a day of recording Inmas (Songlines) with Pintupi Elders, the last Aboriginal Australians to leave their traditional nomadic lifestyle ‘The Pintupi Nine’.

As my heart sunk listening to that IPCC report, detailing Climate Changes effects on the Pacific Islands, a tragic irony struck me: that the very people, who do know how to live sustainably on fragile small Islands, are the first to loose theirs through the unsustainable lifestyle of the rest of us; we are going to loose the cultural knowledge we most need to hear.


Cole and Chen wanted to ensure that the album was rich and resonant of the cultures that they were trying to represent, the nature of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. To achieve this they came up with a method – they would ask the artist to share a song with the project that they would be proud to represent their culture and heritage with, that would be in their own language and that would be played on traditional instruments that had been adopted by the culture. They also asked the artist to choose a location where the track would be recorded at, somewhere that meant something to both them and their culture.

The tracks are interestingly diverse and are full of warmth, highlighting the importance of each individual cultures. We see so much within the music with traditional techniques being implemented, of sounds that represent what we perhaps expect “island” music to sound like, but also felt are contemporary aspects of music that hark to what we hear in Western cultures. Music is represented from a plethora of places; Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Hawaii, Malaysia, the Solomon Islands, Easter Island, Madagascar, Bali, Vanuatu, Bougainville, New Guinea, Borneo and Tahiti. From this, inherently, comes with a vast range of sounds, from Polynesian log-drumming to Solomon panpipes and Hawaiian falsetto singers.

Click on this image to discover the artists.

The album is a Fair Trade music release, with 50% of the net profit going back to the artists and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisation). All physical copies of the album come with a 56-page booklet, a CD and a bamboo toothbrush, just to highlight the need in reducing plastic in our oceans. The albums are packaged with a specially designed hand-made paper, which is made from tapa bark and sugar cane fibre by 廣興紙寮 GuangXing paper mill, a 3rd generation family run hand-made paper factory.

It’s so important for sustainability to be highlighted, especially in the music industry where is is often easily disregarded. Perhaps this project works as a way of documenting an eclectic mix of both traditional and contemporary indigenous music – we’d like to hope it isn’t just something to look back on. It looks towards highlighting the already sustainable islands that, if we carry on the way we are going, are the most likely to be destroyed. These people contribute the least to the climate issues of the world, but will unfortunately be the ones to first feel the effects.

You can listen to the album below, and buy the physical copy here.