Froots Magazine UK
Froots Magazine Amataga review


Amataga Spirit of Play WMCD1010

Aue! One shouldn’t take groups too much for
granted. Despite the title, Amataga (The
Beginning) is the eighth release by this New
Zealand-based Pacific island group; but even
if you’re at all familiar with their style, this
album will still probably surprise. Te Vaka
have clearly progressed greatly since their
early days and the album shows unexpected
depth, poise and maturity.

For although Amataga is still based
around a well-produced mix of the expected
– ‘island’ flava and pan-Pacific percussion
work outs – it’s the songwriting that was the
biggest revelation.

The group’s leader, guitarist,
songwriter and producer, Opetaia
Foa’i, is of solidly Pacific stock (Tokelau and
Tuvalu) and has been described as “one of
New Zealand’s finest songwriters”.

On Amataga we can see why. Foa’i’s songs
not only celebrate Pacific culture (Majestic
Dance and the possibly tongue-in-cheek Paradise)
but are also by turn thoughtful (Big As
You Are and a rueful My Sunny Days), heartfelt
and topical. There’s a song about the
MH370 air disaster, and another highlighting
the under-reported struggle for freedom in
Indonesian-occupied West Papua with the
chanted refrain: “West Papua/ With you now/
Freedom/ Freedom now”.

Foa’i has dedicated this album to those
trying to do something about injustice and
the state of the planet; and with Amataga, Te
Vaka show they have the music to back it up.

Songlines Magazine UK

It’s heartening that this multi-ethnic Polynesian fusion family band, headed by Opetaia Foa’i, is on this evidence, still going strong after making their debut album in 1997. The’re still mixing ballads and festive percussion workouts with chunky log drums that contrast with the thump of skin drums, while youthful siblings whoop, shriek and shout over them. There are also still atmospheric field recordings of ambient island noise, conveying a strong Pacific sense of place, despite the group’s current location in Sydney, Australia.
      ‘Papua i Sisifo’, a rousing song of solidarity with the people of West Papua, isn’t the only track that grabs the listener by the ears (or rather hips); there’s also the fiery grooves of ‘Uso’. But it’s perhaps their spirit of political engagement that has kept them entertaining enthusiastic audiences all the way around the world’s largest ocean for so long. The vaka (canoe) must have a good few nautical miles of proud paddling left in it.
Rhythms Magazine Australia

These are exciting times for New Zealand-based clan band Te Vaka, the standard-bearer for Polynesian music
on the world stage. In addition to the release of their eighth album comes the news that the octet’s patriarch,
lyricist, keyboardist and lead log drummer Opetaia Foa’i is part of the song writing team – alongside award-winning composers Lin-Manuel Miranda and Mark Mancina (The Lion King, Tarzan) – on an upcoming animated Disney musical feature, in which Te Vaka is performing the soundtrack. Amataga (pronounced ‘arma-tongue-ah’) certainly maintains the band’s reputation as a producer of quality albums – even if it does comprise the mixture pretty much as before – while by all accounts Moana, which is scheduled for release at the end of 2016, looks set to uphold Te Vaka’s integrity in the global marketplace. As Opetaia Foa’i told the New Zealand Herald, “I didn’t want to be involved with a movie that’s going to make our culture look silly… I sat in on meetings with every top director in Disney and I spoke my mind, and they listened. These people really care and they really want to present respectfully the culture of the South Pacific.” While Te Vaka’s music is deeply rooted in Polynesian tradition and utilises the stirring rhythm of South Seas island percussion, its songs address current social and political issues, albeit sung in a mixture of Tokelau, Tuvaluan and Samoan. ‘Papua i Sisifo’, an emotive song calling for freedom for West Papua in English and language with passionate chants and vocal harmony, is Amataga’s standout track. As with their previous albums, the collective’s pan-Polynesian groove impresses most when driven by log drums rather than drum-kit and synthesisers, peaking this time in the two minute spectaculars ‘Te Manaia’ and ‘Uso’. In ‘Siva Mamalu log drums mesh with Olivia Foa’i’s sassy vocals. Featuring strong choral sections, the equally impressive ‘Sasa Le Vao’ is the Polynesian equivalent of a shanty.