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. 
Meeting Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse Opetaia at Disney Animation studios

 Opetaia meets John Musker and Ron Clement Opetaia Foai and Mark Mancina

Disney animations studios in BurbankOsnat shurer, John Musker, Ron Clements, Opetaia Foai and Mark Mancina

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. 

Cottage in WaihiNight time in Waihi

 Opetaia writing for Moana Opetaia in WaihiDuring 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.

Opetaia and Malcolm SmithOpetaia recording

 Opetaia recording with Kauri trees Organic instruments 

Trip to Samoa with Disney Directors, Producer, Art department, Head of story and more

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.

SamoaOpetaia at Coconuts

  Opetaia with John MuskerDinner at Coconuts

  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. 

On the way to Savai'iBlowholes

 The Disney team observing the Blowholes Disney team

 Spirit man in Savai'i Savai'i

 The Disney Team incognito at Pasifika in Auckland

 Opetaia, Osnat Shurer and Mark Mancina Impromptu performance by Opetaia and Sulata

 Osnat Shurer, Ron Clement, Tom Macdougal and the rest of the team Ron, Osnat, John, Tom and Mark at their first ever Pasifika FestivalPasifika is an event in Auckland that showcases the music, dance, culture, the arts and crafts of many Islands in the South Pacific. It is an annual event that the Disney team did not want to miss. Most of the music team, Mark Mancina, Lin-Manual Miranda and music supervisor, Tom Mac Dougal didn't come to Samoa with the rest us but instead met us in Auckland for Pasifika. Lin-Manual was the last to arrive and the last member to be added to the music team so we hadn't met him yet. He pretty much hopped off a plane from New York (add 5 more hours to the LA/Auckland trip) and hopped onto the stage at Pasifika and won a dance off competition shaking his hips like mad. Lin-Manuel is a master of improvisation and right then and there he proved to all of us he was the right man for the job. He had never done anything like this before and yet there he was on the Cook Island stage "doing it". This was quite some months before "Hamilton" became a Broadway hit, which was lucky as this whole trip to Pasifika had to be secret. Opetaia and Lin-Manuels involvement in the music was yet to be announced and Disney didnt want anything out of the bag. 

The music team get together for the first time at Revolver studios

Lin-Manuel and Opetaia jaming at RevolverTom MacDougal explaining how the collaboration was going to work

  Listening backMark, Lin, Opetaia and Tom When Disney made the inspired decision to have Opetaia, Lin-Manuel and Mark do the music for Moana, they had no idea how it was all going to work out. In this moment at Revolver Studios, the very first time the three of them got together to actually play music, we all new it was going to work. There was such a freedom to create, so much talent and ability to be free with ideas. These boys were having fun!! They jammed on ideas for hours. On top of that Lin and Mark had not ever been to New Zealand before, let alone to a place like Waiuku, a few hours out of Auckland in the middle of nowhere. For these guys from New York and California - it was an experience they wont forget.

First music week in Carmel

Opetaia in Mark Mancina's studio in Carmel Mark and Opetaia doing some BVs

 David Boucher, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia, Tom MacDougal, Chris Montan and Mark Mancina Lin-Manuel, Opetaia and MarkJuly 2014 was the second trip to the Disney animation studios and the first trip to Mark's beautiful studio in Carmel. This is where the boys actually started working together on the songs for the movie, it was a magical time. The first track was "We know the way", Lin's English lyrics were added to Opetaia's demo. Some haunting scary type chants were added to the front of the track by Opetaia and Mark added the dramatic soundtrack elements. A few tweaks here and there and it was sounding great! Chris Montan (President of Walt Disney Music) was with us at Carmel and he was ecstatic. So happy in fact that when we all went for dinner in Carmel that night we celebrated with some very expensive wine. (after the guided tour of the wine cellar above). Chris was amazing, he was so finely tuned to the music, that he knew exactly what was needed. It was such a joy to be involved in a project with all these wonderfully talented people.