There is thunderous applause as the visiting brass band from American Samoa marches solemnly on to the parade ground on the Apia seafront to perform in the Teuila Festival.

The leader, close to 2m tall and a magnificent figure in his blue and silver uniform, salutes the official party in dignified fashion.

After a brief pause he signals the band to start playing ... and then begins jumping, mincing and prancing about, pulling faces, crying into his hat and performing all sorts of contortions around his glittering baton.

At first you don't know whether to laugh, cheer or feel embarrassed.


But then the appreciative roars from the crowd make it clear that this is what bandleaders in Samoa are supposed to do.

As the festival proceeds you discover that the role of the drum major as comic seems to have been inherited from the traditional dance competition where the leader - often an aristocratic-looking elder - also offers light relief as a contrast to the grace and precision of the dancers.

You also find that each group in the various competitions is accompanied by a huge and enthusiastic support team, often seeming to comprise the entire village, whose job is evidently to ensure that their group's reception is the noisiest.

It makes for an amazing entertainment experience.

The teuila, which in New Zealand is that pesky red ginger plant, is Samoa's national flower and the festival held in its honour every September embraces a wide range of cultural activities from cooking and carving to canoe racing and, yes, brass bands.

It's the ideal time to visit Apia because, with most events taking place in the early evening, it gives a focus to the day.

You can rise at a leisurely hour, maybe do a bit of sightseeing, perhaps go to one of the outlying villages to see a kirikiti match, have a refreshing snorkel at the marvellous Palolo Deep Marine Reserve, then stroll into the middle of town to see the choristers, the dancers, the beauty queens or whoever else is performing.

Afterwards you can snack on food from the festival stalls or drop into one of Apia's restaurants.

It's a great way to spend a week.