Te Vaka: Amataga

TeVaka1Pacific Family Matters

Listening Post 36. As a teenager, Opetaia Foa’i knew music was his calling—to the chagrin of his family, for whom singing was integral to life but hardly a profession. Born in Samoa—father from Tokelau, mother from Tuvalu—and raised in New Zealand, he played jazz, blues, reggae and the songs of Jimi Hendrix. But as he started writing his own music, Foa’i found he felt most at home with the rhythm of his roots. Today, he is the father of contemporary Polynesian music; his family-based band blends Tokelauan and Samoan lyrics with soft harmonies, acoustic and electric guitars, log and goatskin drums, keyboard and ambient sound. On Amataga, their eighth album, the concerns are personal, local and global—love, respect, work, dreams, freedom for West Papua, the tragedy of Malaysian Air flight 370. Mama E is a tribute Foa’i composed for his mother (video 1); “Many painful mistakes I made,” he sings in Samoan, “Much love you gave in correcting me.” In Tele Ve Ko Koe (Big As You Are), a parent speaks to a child: “It’s a bigger world,” say the lyrics in Tokelauan, “You’ll know it when you go out far” (video 2). The title track (Amataga means “The Beginning”) calls for returning to a purer time of giving more than we take, while Sasa Le Vao (Cut the Grass) offers rich harmony backed by sounds of ocean and scythe. In the end, the teen who seemed to defy tradition actually enriched it, bringing his family—and us—along. (Opetaia Foa’i/Spirit of Play Productions/Warm Earth Records)

 


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