In the centre of Papeete, near the central market – in a large structure covered in red and white iron sidings, where pearls and fruit, flowers, fish and coconut milk are sold – there is a small temple of music, a paradise for record fans in vinyl. The yellow printed sign on the window shows the name of Atomi Records. ‘The farthest record shop in the world,’ says Teraiapiti, the owner, proudly, ‘to find another one you have to go to Auckland or San Francisco!’
Inside there are wooden binders containing the vinyls for sale cataloged by genre: Pacific music, but also European rock, American country, new wave, reggae, world and some independent music. Teraiapiti has good taste, you can see it from the selection of records he offers. But there are also rarities from the ‘60s that come from all over the world: Japanese records from the ‘70s that would make Quentin Tarantino happy, some pearls like Suzi Quatro, and a compilation of Italian music with the comforting title, ‘Viva l’Italia’ where Gianni Nazzaro, Marcella and Sandro Giacobbe feature. Others have covers that allude to the beauty of the Bel Paese.
Obviously the most interesting section is the one dedicated to the original Tahitian vinyls. I discover, thanks to the teachings of Teraiapiti, that the music scene here has been very rich, at least up until the last few decades. We put some records from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s on the turntable and go on a journey of discovery of Tahitian music – which is different from the better known music from Hawaii. Guitars and ukuleles follow tighter rhythms and accompany songs with simple and very beautiful melodies.
I notice that many of these records are produced by Eddie Lund. A character who significantly contributed to the history of music on this island. Moving to Tahiti from the United States in the 1930s, Lund became passionate about traditional Polynesian music, learned the language and started playing it with local musicians. He set up a band named Eddie Lund and His Tahitians and founded a record label. Many of the recordings that were made in the following decades are due to his work in the research and promotion of Polynesian music.
I spend the afternoon listening to records with covers printed using super 8 film with their saturated colours and often portraying beautiful girls playing on the beach, but also of boats that sail these seas as we are doing. Who knows maybe Eddie Lund was also a sailor. I buy two records which also have the lyrics of the songs on the back, so that I can learn some of them and try to sing in Polynesian.
Teraiapiti is very kind, in addition to giving me a lot of information about local music, he puts the records digitally on a USB stick, so that I can listen to them on the boat during the trip. Unfortunately, we do not have a turntable on Milanto and it would be a problem anyway to be able to play it without damaging the needle! He tells me about his experiences in Europe and how he came back and managed to open the shop. A difficult accomplishment in a country where taxation is very high due to the feudal structure that the local government maintains with France. He also tells me about his stay in Italy when he went to visit his mother’s cousin, who in the ‘70s had married one of the brothers of Dino de Laurentis, the famous film producer. In those years Tahiti welcomed productions from all over the world following the success of The Mutiny on the Bounty with Marlon Brando in 1962.
I ask him if he knows any place where I can listen to live music in Papeete, but he doesn’t know what to say to me. Unfortunately, most of today’s clubs play reggaeton music at high volume, or they do covers of international songs sung in Polynesian with a disproportionate use of Auto-Tune and effects that would make even the worst trap music producer turn pale. In short, globalisation has done damage here not only to the food (obesity is a widespread problem among Polynesians), and social disparities, but also to the music and local culture.
For this reason Atomi records is a cultural garrison and I am happy to be able to promote it in this blog. Teraiapiti also intends to start a label to produce local music, especially rap. I wish him luck with his future projects and I invite everyone to visit Atomi Records, the farthest record shop in the world!