Kaneka - The Music of New Caledonia

Fusing Melanesian tradition with world music, kaneka is a genre that carries both history and modern day influences in its unique sound. Since the mid-1980s, this music has been expanding throughout New Caledonia, with groups like Trenge Kamo bringing these reggae inspired rhythms to venues around this South Pacific country.

I recently saw Trenge Kamo play at the Centre d’Art/Center for Arts in Nouméa. Their energy and sound was something the diverse group of listeners were undeniably enjoying, and after a few songs, I decided I would definitely have to try to get an interview.

As they were packing up, in a mix of French and English, I was able to introduce myself to the group. Everybody I talked to was incredibly open and kind as we tried to figure out when we could meet up to talk. The only issue was that the lead singer, Ynaz, was headed home to the island of Lifou (due to it being wedding season there) the next morning.

This little last-minute interview came together quite quickly then, with Ynaz adjusting his jacket and very willingly helping me out and answering a couple of my questions. Speaking about the role of music in his childhood and then going more into the history behind kaneka, his words reflected both knowledge and passion for what he does.

Here is the little clip we were able to put together that evening. And so, with that said, I hope you enjoy this short introduction to music of New Caledonia.


Caliber: So first just introduce yourself - name, where are you from?

Ynaz: My name is Inahao/Mathieu Waikata, but I go by Ynaz. I come from the tribe of Hmelec on the island of Lifou, the largest of the Loyalty islands.

Pierre: His name is Inahao/Mathieu Waikata - Ynaz in his mother language. He comes from Lifou, the tribe of Melec. Lifou is the largest island of the Loyalty Islands.

C: And when did you start playing music?

Y: I started playing music at the age of twelve when I was living with the elders in the tribe. I started to play with them - I began to be inspired by the spirit of the music and the music of the family - the fathers, grandfathers, so I started to play. I started to with the drums - I am a drummer!

P: So he started when he was twelve, and he started to play because lots of relatives were already playing, so he got his inspiration from their songs, and at the beginning he was a drummer

C: And what is the name of the group and when was the group formed?

Y: We started the group in 2004 as Kadyas, but with some different musicians at that time. The group then changed to Ynaz & Friend”. Then finally last year, it was changed to Trenge Kamo. This happened when we added the trumpet and trombone, with Pierre and everybody else.

P: Okay so originally the group was named Kadyas in 2004, (and) with the main people you have seen tonight. And then it has changed to Ynaz & Friends, and last year it was finally changed to Trenge Kamo with the people you see and with the new instruments, the trumpet and the trombone.

C: And how does the traditional music you heard growing up influence the music you play now?

Y: Well initially here (in New Caledonia), there was no music. We only had dance. This gave the rhythm that today we call kaneka. This is was what inspired kaneka, what we had before.

P: So first Melanesian people of New Caledonia were not used to playing music, they were only dancing before white people came.

Y: Le chap!

P: Quite recently, maybe 30 or 40 years ago, I don’t know exactly, they imagined their own music called kaneka, and that is what inspired him at the beginning, kaneka.

C: Okay, two more, so a lot of people that will watch this don’t know this music. So when somebody new comes to a concert what do you want them to think or feel… do you want them to be dancing, moving? What do you expect the audience to feel?

Y: Generally kaneka in New Caledonia gets people to dance and move. But us, Trenge Kamo, we want the world to discover kaneka. With kaneka, and its sound/tonality, we want them to discover. a different culture of music that is connected to dancing (melanesian tradition).

P: When a group of musicians play kaneka, usually people like to dance and move. What Trenge Kamo wants to do is to show kaneka to more people - to open more people to this kind of music.

C: Last question. Any final message you would want to say to whoever is watching?

Y: I would love for the group to evolve kaneka with new instruments, new rhythms, to export our music. That is the goal of the group. For that we need musicians, the whole world, communication, everything. With our music on our facebook page, you can follow us… I will end now with a dance that started all of our music.

P: So… ah I forgot the first part! The message is that he wants to show more and more people this traditional music and (that) kaneka is changing - kaneka is integrating new rhythms, new instruments, new people. The group is a melting pot for people from everywhere. But to show people what is kaneka he is going to show you the music that originally did not exist, so he is going to show you the dance, kaneka.


Y: And that, that is the rhythm that gives us kaneka!

C: Thank you!


Edited by: Molly Kearnan

Photo Credit: Pierre Souviat, Kincso Domiczi