Not everyone is blessed with the gift of voice, whether in song, reading, or just in conversation. How many can recall listening to stories via the tape recorder in elementary school and literally falling asleep or feeling bored to death? Let’s be real; how could anyone be scared of the big bad wolf coming to blow the next piggy’s house down when the person telling the story sounded the same throughout and had no feeling to his/her voice? You didn’t know if he/she was making a statement of the wolf’s next whereabouts or if he even cared if the wolf showed up or not.
Then there are the real animated storytellers. People like your aunties and uncles who told you about their days growing up and their eerie encounters with the taotaomo’na. Though they didn’t read from a book, they tapped into their deepest childhood memories and put themselves right back in time, describing how the day was, what they did and most importantly how they felt. And the coolest part, is not having to ask how they felt at that time, you knew it by the way they told their story, how their voice sounded, by watching their body movements, or like in any Chamoru family by seeing how big Uncle Pepe’s eyes got when he was explaining how close the halu’u got to biting him before he made the last mad dash to the reef.
Admit it, stories are great, but they’re even better when there are sound effects and an emphatic voice-over to trigger your imagination. Voice-over techniques give voices and personalities to animated characters. These types of effects gives the reader/audience a better understanding of what is going on in each scene. In essence, it enables your audience to connect and engage with you and your content on a level that goes beyond simply reading a book. As humans we are social creatures and in doing so it’s natural for us to find ways to connect with others emotionally, spiritually, culturally, and intellectually. Sounds through voice or music are a few ways we connect.
Just recently we finished recording our voice-over narrations in English and Chamorro for Outsmarting Manet. This has been one of the challenging parts of this project: to find voice talent that is emphatic, rhythmic, animated, gentle but evocative, and focuses on inflections to convey the essence of the story in both languages. Monotone voices are flat and boring and listeners don’t know how the speaker is feeling when everything sounds the same. At first, we thought the best possible way to achieve this was to get separate voice-overs for each language, which would mean twice the amount of recording time and money. But after months of searching and with the help of our close friends, we were able to meet the perfect voice: Senora Ewy Taitano. This was our first time to ever work on a project with Senora Ewy. Aside from her soothing motherly voice, she was open to try different techniques.
Auntie Ewy is a Chamorro Language and Studies teacher for the Guam Department of Education. She’s been a GDOE teacher for over 20 years and has taught kids of all ages. When she’s not teaching, she’s actively involved in the community as a Committee member of the 2016 Festival of the Pacific Arts, a member of the Guam Sunshine Lions Club, a member of the Hita Program with her involvement in the full-length animated Chamorro film, “Maisa: The Chamoru Girl Who Saves Guahan,” and serves as the Chairperson for numerous Chamorro language and studies organizations. And what a sweet lady she is. Not only did she help us identify and correct a few Chamorro translations, but she walked us through the reasoning behind Chamorro language conjugations and the difference between Spanish influenced words and historical Chamorro words. Truly Auntie Ewy embodies the spirit of ‘saina’ with her positive approach to teaching our generation not only to speak the language, but to read and write it well. Her commitment to the growth and perpetuation of the Chamorro culture is remarkable and a true testament to her life’s work. A special note to Auntie Ewy: Thank you for dedicating your entire Friday night to help us with this project. We love you and we thank you for taking us under your wing. Ginen I mas fondun i korason’mami, un dangkolo na si yu’os ma’ase para todu i checho’mu para este na estoria.
Here’s an audio clip from one of the scenes in Outsmarting Manet.
If you’ve ever heard someone speak in Chamorro, you’ll notice the natural rhythm it has. If you’re around it long enough, you start to pick up keywords and you’re able to identify where pronunciations are accentuated. And there’s absolutely no denying that you’ll recognize there’s something hypnotic about the Chamorro language that reels you in, and penetrates those emotions sitting deep down inside you. Sometimes it’s so powerful you don’t know whether it’s the conviction in a person’s voice, or the pain and emotion you sense in a singer’s voice when she sings or chants in Chamorro. The type of emotions that makes the hair on your neck stand up, or gives you chills down your back, or makes you so angry you’re ready to stand up and fight. This is the power of the spoken Chamorro word and one of the reasons we are committed to creating products in the language for everyone to experience.
We love the Chamorro culture beyond words and appreciate all it’s beauty in how it has evolved from the past to the present. There’s no denying that through time, many things have changed in the ways we speak the language, how we carry out our traditions, and how we manage to pass on what we know to the next generation. But one thing remains the same: there’s strength and beauty in the resiliency of the culture and the people, that even when close to eradication, our people continue to find ways to rise up to preserve the language and the culture. Hita I Man Chamoru: We always find a way.