Vaiteani

Nuance in Paradise

Listening Post 144. A Google search of literature featuring Tahiti turns up novels by 46 authors, only one of whom is Tahitian: Most of what the world knows about the fabled island is filtered through foreign eyes. The singer-songwriter Vaiteani Teaniniuraitemoana acknowledges that some stereotypes of her home island are positive, but she sees all simplified images as reference points to be checked against experience. A good starting place is her eponymous debut album, as beautiful and sensual as Tahiti’s most entrenched myths, but also nuanced with three-dimensional intimacy and reflection. Like the travelers who describe distant shores, Vaiteani, too, has seen the world, studying in France and working as an English teacher. It was also in France that she became something of a two-headed goddess (see album cover), combining forces with, and wrapping her name around, multi-instrumentalist Luc Totterwitz, her Alsatian composing partner and arranger. They describe their music as Polynesian folk—the folk largely based on acoustic guitar and African percussion, fitting frames for a Pacific universe and soothing vocals in Tahitian, English and French. Ua Roa Te Tau (It’s Been a Long Time) is a breezy ballad about romantic disappointment and the idea of carrying past love into a new relationship (video 1); while Silver Ocean is a lush musical postcard of sun, water and serenity (video 2). The album’s one cover is Belle-Île-en-Mer, Marie Galante (video 3), an iconic 1980’s song about distant islands and hybrid French identity by Laurent Voulzy, an early supporter of Vaiteani’s career. One mythmaker Vaiteani takes on is Gauguin: In A Peni Mai (Paint Me), she posits herself as a model for a lascivious artist who fails to see the rage beneath the bronze skin or the souls he erases (video 4). A century on, a subject emerges from the canvas and offers her own breathtaking vision and soundtrack. (Motu Hani/Un Plan Simple)

 

Ua Roa Te Tau: “It’s been a long time since I heard from you/A long time, and I don’t have a clue
All this time, all this silence/What’s happening? Have you found someone new?

Ah, it’s time for me/To turn the page
So your memory disappears/Just disappears

You’ll still dream of me/When I’m in someone else’s arms
And you’ll still love me/More and always

You were wrong, my love/To let me down
And I was wrong, my love/To trust you” 

 

Silver Ocean: “Silver ocean and golden sun/In a blue crystal sky
Take over the precious stones/That you’d like to buy

Sweet sandalwood scents and wind in your hands/And silk for the rain
Discover a brand new feeling/A brand new day

​I say, Try another kind of addiction/Educate your sense of vision
I say, Try another kind of sensation/Come and share some natural wisdom”

 

Belle-Île-en-Mer, Marie Galante: “Belle-Ile-en-Mer/Marie-Galante
St. Vincent/Far Singapore
It’s water/That separates you
And leaves you apart

My childhood memories/In France
Violence/Lack of indulgence
By the differences I have
Coffee/Lightness/Mixed milk
Separated little child/Just like you
I know this feeling/Solitude and isolation

(Added Tahitian verse): Tahiti, O my beloved land
I was crowned by your light
And I miss you, every day
O my little country”

 

 

A Peni Mai: “You know how to paint my eyes
The bronze of my body/Oh, loved body

From my perfume: intoxicated!
Paint the fruit of your desire/Desire confused, desire drunk

Fire under my skin
My rage, my pain
By your neglected art …

Multiple women you have tasted
Many paintings, sumptuous!
Multiple women you liked
Many bodies, souls erased!”

 


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