When you wish upon a star
When your whole musical goal for the last twenty years has been to promote the music and culture of the South Pacific and you get that magical phone call from Disney and the Producer says - “ Think Lion King, set in the South Pacific 2000 years ago and we would like you to write the music” you can start to feel like you are in a Disney movie because things like this don’t happen in real life – But it did!
In June 2013, when the call came from Moana Producer Osnat Shurer, to discuss the Disney musical animated feature film set in Polynesia, Disney animations studios had already bought and studied all the Te Vaka albums and knew they wanted Opetaia on the team. Mark Mancina (Lion King, Tarzan and more) had been signed on for the score but Lin-Manuel Miranda had yet to be approached when we made our first trip to Disney animation studios to be immersed in the magic of Disney and the Moana story. Everybody we met was excited and inspired by this project. The Directors, John Musker and Ron Clements (Little mermaid, Aladdin and more), had already been on the project for a couple of years, had taken several trips to various South Pacific Islands and had fallen in love with the culture and the people of the South Seas. Opetaia was so excited, inspired and moved by the whole experience, he began writing “We know the way” on his way home from this first of many trips to the US.
Writing "We know the way"
December 2013 - January 2014
Opetaia had just spent 3 whirlwind days being immersed in the Disney process. He was moved and inspired, mind buzzing with ideas. Needing to be out of the city, to connect with the elements, the culture and the Moana story he returned to New Zealand to be with family, elders and the original inspiration for Te Vaka music. Grabbing his guitars and recording equipment he headed to Waihi, a rural area several hours out of Auckland to be surrounded by land and nature, animals and water to a small cottage with an old woodstove and an outside bathroom. Back to basics you could say. A sign was put up blocking visitors from using the driveway so there would be no interruptions to the songwriting flow. There he continued to write and record the demo for “We know the way” Those of us who were allowed to hear what was coming out of the studio knew that this was something special.
During the months in New Zealand many trips were made to Auckland recording song demos and ideas for the movie. Below laying down the vocals at Malcolm Smith's studio in Auckland amidst ancient Kauri trees really provided inspiration and helped to set the scene to sing vocals for "We know the way". The version Opetaia sang here looking out into the Kauri forest was the version that ended up in the movie.
Trip to Samoa
Travelling to Samoa with the Disney crew was a very special experience. On this trip we had the Directors, and producer but we also had people from the arts department, story writers and more - taking in, photographing, sketching, recording – just trying to capture the essence of the Islands in every way. From the first moment we arrived John Musker had his sketch pad out and started capturing moments in the way that only people trained in the art of animations can. There were many sketches done of all of us including one of the producer when she got seasick on the way to Savai’i.
At 4.30am the next morning we were on the way to the ferry for the trip to Savai’i . It was quite a long trip but totally worth it. First were the blow holes – I have never seen anything like it. The directors who are passionate about the personality the sea was going to have in the movie just loved it and everyone got soaked when massive spouts erupted out of the rocks.
Next was the trip to the spirit land. This is where Opetaia had a hugely inspiring time. We met with a very old and fragile gentleman who appeared to look into people’s hearts and souls and he was telling the story of the spiritual canoes visiting with the ancestors and took us on a walk through bush and up rocks to show us the place they come to.