TE VAKA - TE VAKA
Original, Contemporary Pacific Music
Opetaia Foa'i, group leader and main composer of Te Vaka, was born in Samoa and grew up in New Zealand. Accordingly, Foa'i’s vision of Pacific music combines elements of music indigenous to both, as well as Tokelau and Tuvalu (neighbouring Islands colonized by New Zealand), and lightly flavours them with Aboriginal and European styles.
The first sound on this disc to grab your attention is the polyrhythmic attack of Te Vaka’s percussion. Log drums and the Pacific version of the conga (originally made with sharkskins) are found throughout Oceania, and Te Vaka’s rhythms, especially on the tunes based on traditional dances, are as vigorous as anything coming out of the Africa diaspora. “Ika Ika,” in which a fisherman dreams of cooking the day’s catch, and the closing ceremonial “Siva Mai” may have echoes in the Caribbean, but it’s the scorching staccato of the log drums that makes these tracks rock. Melodically, Te Vaka is anchored by both the chiming tones of Foa'i’s inventive acoustic guitar picking (using open tunings favored by many Pacific Islanders) and the bands affable vocals, augmented here by male and female choruses that give the tunes an added spiritual depth. The group’s overall sound is soothing, full of melodies that celebrate the South Pacific’s easygoing lifestyle; yet Te Vaka also takes on the weighty subjects of economic displacement and the genocidal raids South American slavers made on Tokelau during the 1850’s.
With the exception of the current revival of the Hawai’ian slack-key guitar, most of the music that’s passed off as “Pacific”is either watered-down tourist fare or hokey, Martin Denny-inspired exotica. Te Vaka’s forceful rhythms, inspired melodies, and heartfelt songwriting offer a long - overdue, stereotype-smashing glimpse into the true soul of the South Seas. - j.poet
Te Vaka: Ki mua by David Gideon
Covers stars of Feb/March’s NZM, Te Vaka have compiled a faultless selection of tracks with an obvious focus on Pacific culture and character. ‘Ki mua’ is what I would term (dare I say it) ‘Pacific Rock’. It has a very professional sound, is well produced by Malcolm Smith and Opetaia Foa’i with cool and easy grooves with chants that have a real, authentic sense of culture and Polynesian style. There’s no English here, the songs penned by frontman Opetaia Foa’i are all sung in Tokelauan which benefits the overall sound of the album. Title track Ki mua starts off nice and easy, drawing the cultural sounds of the Pacific up from the depths of Tradition and into the realms of it’s future. A song foundation of male harmonies layer well with an equally strong mix of angelic tones from vocalist Sulata Foa’i. The combination of vocals is best displayed on the harmony drenched Pate Pate while Lua Afe should be heard in dance clubs throughout the nation, if not the world. It makes way more sense to me to dance to these songs than all of the boom box techno junk food busting our eardrums today. There’s nothing I can fault about the musicianship on this album, nor the song construction or production. Even the addition of children’s voices on Ke Ke Kitea bring out a serene vibrance of culture and art inspired mainly and uniquely by the past and present lives of a people led by an adventurous and free spirit.
by David Gideon
Te Vaka - Nukukehe
It’s very simple. Every time I hear a song from Te Vaka it puts a smile on my face and the melody stays with me for days. What else do you want from pop? But the sound of Te Vaka does so much more. These voices, acoustic guitars and drums speak volumes, they stimulate so many emotions: pride, sense of place and belonging, joy and nostalgia. There are plenty of hipper groups successfully fusing their culture with the music industry’s latest push, but the purity of Te Vaka’s approach makes them that much more effecting. Here is the sound of the Pacific, and style Pasifika, with no marketing, merchandising, fashion designers, tourist boards or government cultural strategies. And Te Vaka’s music is so refreshing and appealing that they have been touring constantly around the world since their first album five years ago.
Thanks to some television airtime, ‘Papa e”, from that self-titled debut, became an underground hit (it deserved to be another ‘Poi e’). It was a Pacific pop tune with an unstoppable melody; traditional but devoid of sunset and ukulele cliches or hip hop affectations. The same strengths are present throughout Nukukehe, Te Vaka’s third album. Once again leader and songwriter Opetaia Foa’i has written songs with contagious melodies, spirited vocals and irresistible rhythms. And if you’re wondering what those songs you are singing along to are actually about, it is the issues crucial to the Pacific’s survival: climate change, family and leadership, homesickness and dislocation. ‘Nukukehe’ about the changes back home has the immediacy of ‘Papa e’; ‘Alamagoto’ celebrates the new life while still hearing the call home; and the gentle and moving ballad, ‘Loimata E Maligi’, pays tribute to the 19 Tuvalu girls lost in a school fire. The instruments are voice, guitars, log drums and also keyboards. Te Vaka may be pure but they’re not fusty ethnomusicologists. ‘Tamatoa’ has a synth riff that could come from blondie’s heyday, and ‘Tesema’ also evokes the mirror balled dancefloor. ‘Pukepuke Te Pate’ and ‘Sapasui’ are log-drum instrumentals that emphasise the timeless impact of rhythm - and the communication and emotions achieved when humans are creating the rhythms.
There is plenty of lip service paid to Pacific culture but Foa’i’s Te Vaka is the real oil: this is the canoe undertaking the great migration. To be moved by something so familiar, so pervasive it is taken for granted, is like rediscovering your own heartbeat.
By CHRIS BOURKE
Te Vaka - Tutuki
Sumptuous stuff from Aotearoa’s Pan – Pacific Polynesian
New Zealand based band Te Vaka have consistently proved themselves to be one of the most sophisticated and professional Pacific groups around. Deserving WOMAD favourites, their performances are an impressive combination of vibrant log-drum rhythms, intricate vocal harmonies and hip-swivelling island dancing.
But while their three previous recordings have all been pretty good, to my ear Te Vaka have never quite captured the exuberance of their big live shows. Until now, that is. Remaining true to their mixed Tuvalu/Tokelau/Samoa/Cook Island/Maori roots, Tutuki (Play the Beat) finds all the right balances; traditional but not too provincial, funky but not too Western, polished but not too slick. Frontman composer and co –producer Opetaia Foa’i has used his instinctive feel for the innate beauty of the Pacific melody, along with flawless production, to create a very spacious and elegant album.
A lyrically diverse collection, the opening ‘Samulai’ (Samurai) addresses Japanese overfishing of the Pacific, but is almost reminiscent of South African township jive, the deep male voices a counterpoint to the delicate female backing. Elsewhere ‘Manu Samoa’ praises the sporting/warrior talents of the Samoan culture, while ‘Tauale Mataku”(Terrifying disease) is a moving tribute to the Pacific region’s growing AIDS problem.
On several tracks the band unleashes their formidable and rhythmically complex log drumming, and there’s no shortage of intense, thigh slapping percussion on the brief Maori haka influenced track ‘Oku Tupuga’.
Strong, stylish and sweet, Tutuki is an inspired album that could well prove to be Te Vaka’s most successful recording yet.
by Seth Jordan
Te Vaka – Olatia
Pumping through the veins of the Polynesian's heart, discover the tribal and passionate sound of Te Vaka's fifth album Olatia. Written by the widely respected Opetaia Foa'i, the people's musical voice of the past and present, unveiling political and spiritual issues. Te Vaka is the most internationally recognised modern Polynesian band. Comprising of eleven native musicians and dancers, four of which are part of the Foa'i family, who through their music are trying to keep their traditional culture alive.
The album emulates an earthy grounding beat, full of melody. Never straying from their roots. The theme of nature atmospherically binds some of the tracks together. Each track has it's own strength. Birdsong opens Ki Te Fakaolatia (To The Resue) singing of the survival of their environment and the power of life. Changing the tune is Nonu Paoa (Nonu Power), an energetic journey, chanting along powerfully enforcing the importance of uniting families together. The wide spectrum of instruments in the album simply diversifies the feel and the sound of the Pacific culture. Lima Tane features the Hawaiian ipu, which was a gift to Foa'i during their tour of Hawaii in 2005 - a very inspiring beat.
This collection of 13 tracks expresses the intense desire to share their story, also covering issues such as global warming. The lyrics, which are mainly in Tokeelau, but also in Tuvaluan and Samoan, are translated into English in the accompanying 16-page booklet. The tone of the majority of these tracks is of a powerful spirit, however there is also the voice of a broken heart, representing the sadness of the loss of identity in this region. Olatia is to be promoted at the Rugby World Cup in France where Te Vaka shall be guests. The Polynesians should be proud to have a band like Te Vaka to represent their people.
By Lucy Wyatt
Te Vaka - Haoloto
OPETAIA FOA'I continues to guide with ease what can only be described as one of the greatest South Pacific bands of all time - Te Vaka.
Since the establishment of the group in New Zealand 15 years ago, Te Vaka's music has encapsulated the heart and soul of the Pacific, Polynesia specifically. And, in the process, it has crushed underfoot once and for all the widely-held perception that Pacific music is only about ukeleles and hip-swaying hula girls.
With his trademark open-key acoustic guitar, Foa'i steers Te Vaka - "The Canoe" - up several notches with the release of their latest South Pacific fusion CD Haoloto - their sixth since their self-titled debut album in 1997.But in doing so, the band doesn't stray an inch from the world-renowned Te Vaka tradition of adrenaline-pumped tribal percussions and soft-rockish ballads that pack the potential to pop goosebumps, or even reduce one to tears.
While categorised "world music", several of the 15-track CD are definitely crossover material, particularly the anti-drug cut Well ... you lied,which lead female vocalist Olivia Foa'i delivers with a passionate, forceful grace.The vocal arrangement here is eerily reminiscent of the 1992 Herbs and Annie Crummer collaboration See What Love Can Do.In an acknowledgement on the CD sleeve, Opetaia describes the record as "the most challenging and most satisfying of all the Te Vaka albums".He says: "Once the canoe got rolling with all on board, there was a feeling that we were heading for somewhere special".
Te Vaka has also been heading all over the world since day one. The multi-award-winning ensemble has globe-trotted ceaselessly and performed at prestigious venues in Europe, the Rugby World Cup in Paris, the Beijing Olympics, the United States and throughout the region.
Haoloto is a special dedication to the victims of the tsunami in Tonga and Samoa and the earthquakes that claimed over a thousand lives in Indonesia.Opetaia writes: "We owe much to groups like the Red Cross, Oxfam and the Volunteer Ministers (the flash of yellow) and all other emergency response groups like them."It is with great respect for their hard work and care that I dedicate this album to them."
But most of all, in this writer's humble opinion, the music of Te Vaka is a kind of rallying call for people of the Pacific diaspora, no matter where in the world they have established their new Jerusalem.
By Ioane Burese
TE VAKA - HAVILI
Te Vaka have refined and defined a particular kind of pan-Pacific pop with its roots in tradition but driven by ringing folk-rock guitars as much as percussion, and on this melody-stacked album writer-singer Opetaia Foa'i and band seem to have hit a new peak.
It is almost as if their relocation from New Zealand to Australia has pulled them back to what they did best, but also that they have been reinvigorated by their new environment (which accounts for the didgeridoo on Luga ma lalo).
With log drums alongside a standard drum kit, electric guitars beside acoustic, and children's voices as well as hefty male chanting, these 13 tracks -- recorded in just three weeks in Australia and Auckland -- have a vibrancy and freshness which leaps off the disc.
Logo te pate has urgency and a terrific chorus, Moemiti delivers with a slightly off-beat funk edge, the scene setting instrumental Tuamalo sounds like it was recorded right on a Pacific beach before the rains came, and Lovely World is gentle folk with soulful singing by Olivia Foa'i and an arrangement which allows for cello, violin and cannoning drums.
Tamaiti uma -- with the children's voices behind Opetaia's yearning vocals - manages to avoid the tweeness which the sound of little kids can often dictate.
Punctuated by percussion interludes and ending with the reflective Kofu o lakau, this album (their seventh?) finds Te Vaka at a musical peak and Opetaia's universal concerns -- positivity and hope, the loss of friends, the gift of family -- make this a heartfelt album on every level.
Summer always seems at hand when Te Vaka are around.
By Graham Reid
Te Vaka - Live In Concert DVD
Two storming gigs from Polynesian collective
The world’s most successful band to play original contemporary Pacific music, Te Vaka, are based in Auckland.
Founded in 1995 by the Western Samoan singer-guitarist Opetaia Foaí (whose Tokelauan language is a legacy of his Tokelau Island heritage), Te Vaka is a 13-strong collective of musicians and dancers from Tokelau, Tuvalu, Samoa, Cook Islands and New Zealand (seven of them from the extended Foaí family). Their compelling, upbeat brand of fusion has its roots in the chants, harmonies and log-drums of the Pacific Islands: their lyrics encourage awareness of the environment, stress the importance of community, and take politicians to task. Nominated for a BBC Radio 3 Award for World Music award and with four lauded albums under their tapa cloth sarongs, Te Vaka have performed in 30 countries around the world and forged a formidable live reputation in the process. Here’s why.
As great as they are on record (and they are), live they are something else. This DVD shows the band in two separate concerts; at Toata Stadium in Tahiti and Apia Park in Samoa. A traditionally dressed line-up of impossibly beautiful men and women playing everything from electric guitars and kit drums to pate (single and double log drums) and pa’u (indigenous goat-skin conga and bass drums), Te Vaka evoke the spirit of the islands through music and just as importantly through dance. The deft camerawork includes wide shots of the stage, behind-drum-kit shots, close-ups of dancing feet and the delighted faces of two spellbound audiences, raising their arms in the air and singing along word for word. Male dancers in grassy anklets slap their bodies percussively, their ancient fatele dance enhanced by the chants and rhythms of a row of tribal-tattooed drummers. Female dancers in coconut-shell bras and grass skirts enact ancient tales with baskets of flowers, swaying hula-like figures of eight. There are music videos of the hits ‘Tamahana' and ‘Lakilua’, as well as behind-the-scenes footage from the Tahitian tour- and of the bands arrival in Samoa. They are greeted with songs, dance, garlands and pride, revered as envoys of a beautiful, fragile part of the world.
By Jane Cornwell