Opetaia Foa'i - FOUNDER OF TEVAKA, SONGWRITER, PRODUCER, SINGER, GUITARIST, PERCUSSIONIST

Opetaia Tavita Foa’i was born in Alamagoto, a small village in Western Samoa. His father from Tokelau and his mother from Tuvalu. At age 9, he and his family relocated to Auckland, New Zealand where he began to explore modern genres of music outside the traditional sounds so engrained in him from his island upbringing. 

One of the most important influences in his musical development happened on his first day of high school where he discovered the album - Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix.

At the age of 15, he had a band and a residency in a nightclub on K Road (one of the main roads in Auckland’s CBD), performing mainly Jimi Hendrix material. In later years he got into other styles of music such as Jazz, Blues and Reggae but he meanwhile continued his involvement with traditional song and dance through community and family functions.

In 1994, after exploring genres from various cultures, Opetaia felt it was time to further address his own. He began experimenting with and rearranging a Traditional Tokelauan song. Something inside him clicked and he knew there was no turning back. This was the beginning of “Te Vaka”. 

It was his wife, Julie, who first believed in his music. She began to play it to people and many in the industry became quite excited about it. 

In 1995, Opetaia’s cousin, Sam Panapa, (who was playing rugby league for the Wigan club in the UK at the time) was able to get the demo tape straight into Real World Studios (Peter Gabriel’s record label) and the result was positive - they wanted to hear more! Everything snowballed from there. 

By 1997, the first Te Vaka album was released and signed worldwide with ARC music and the band Opetaia had assembled began touring the world, starting with 3 months on the road in Europe. They rapidly gained a following amongst World Music enthusiasts, being named favourites at most of the festivals they performed at that year.

1998 saw many invitations for Te Vaka to return to Europe and a trip to Texas to showcase at South by South West. There were 800 bands performing and Te Vaka was featured on the 6.00pm & 10.00pm news, got an hour live on the radio and a mention in the New York times. The world was starting to become aware of Te Vaka music. This time the tour to Europe was for 5 months starting in Spain and ending at a charity pop concert in the UK with Ringo star and the Allstars – Peter Frampton, Bob Geldof, and other music legends. 

Opetaia has continued to tour Te Vaka over the years (with various band member configurations) to over 40 countries, including performances at many prestigious events and venues such as: The Beijing Olympics, The Rugby World Cup in Paris, The Byron Bay Blues Festival, The Sydney Opera House and many more. 

He has composed and released 8 albums (his early hits including Pate Pate and Tamahana from the “Legend of Johnny Lingo” soundtrack) winning many awards. 

In 2013, Opetaia was scouted out by Disney Animation Studios and signed on as Songwriter for their feature animation Moana. He was announced to be on the music team at the 2015 Disney D23 Expo in Anaheim, California, alongside Broadway megastar Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, In the Heights) and scoring master Mark Mancina (The Lion King, Training Day, August Rush). He also brought Te Vaka over with him to perform a song he had written for the movie (English lyrics by Lin-Manuel) We Know The Way. 

After 3 years of working on the movie’s music, Moana was released in 2016 and again, Opetaia brought Te Vaka to perform with him 3 of the songs he composed for the movie at the World Premiere at The El Capitan theatre in Hollywood.