The music of Te Vaka, written by Opetaia Foa'i is traditionally influenced but definitely contemporary. The log drums (or Pate in his native language) are an important part of the sound, capturing the infectious rhythms of the South Seas and creating a Pacific groove. Opetaia has a very deep and passionate involvement with the Islands of the South Pacific. He writes songs that tell the story of Polynesia, from the original pioneers who traveled across the largest ocean on the planet with a simple canoe (vaka) to the current destruction of many of the smaller Pacific Islands such as Tokelau and Tuvalu due to the effects of Global warming and climate change.
The songs are mostly in the language of Tokelau, an original dialect of old Polynesia, but in the later albums there are songs in Samoan and Tuvaluan also.. This serves as a means of keeping the language alive as well as imparting, to the music, the rich colour and rhythm of the language itself. The listener is offered something new and unique, the barriers of age and culture are broken down on a journey through heart of Polynesia.
In Opetaia's own words......"I was fortunate to have grown up in a place where I was exposed to Tokelau, Tuvalu and Samoan traditional music and dance. This was the music that captured my heart and which I grew to love. Arriving in New Zealand at the age of nine, I was further exposed to other styles of music, for example, Jimi Hendrix and Joan Armatrading were two of my favourite artists and I began to play in clubs, pubs, etc. - copying the European and American styles of music I was at that time exposed to. I obtained my first residency in a nightclub (The Firehouse), at the age of fifteen and although I continued to play these styles of music for the next 20 years and can't ignore the fact that my song writing has been infuenced by them, I have to admit I was never really comfortable copying these musical styles.
I am now at a point in my life where I feel my musical journey has come full circle. I have purposefully retuned the guitar to an open tuning as that was how I originally played it in Samoa. I've also used a Polynesian language (Tokelauan) to express different aspects of Polynesia in the most honest and natural way I can. Although I speak English, Samoan and Tuvaluan as well, I was brought up in a Tokelauan community and I found this to be the most comfortable language for my song writing. My main source of inspiration comes from speaking to the old people and extracting information passed to them by their parents. This valuable information is then put into music and preserved for the coming generations to appreciate. This is a very important part of my writing.
It is very fortunate that my music is appreciated by people from many cultural backgrounds here in New Zealand and internationally. It appears that the language is not a barrier and the music communicates all by itself, supported by the fact that I have achieved a worldwide distribution with my first album. Many celebrity musicians have made comments on the potential of the Pacific including Quincey Jones when he visited New Zealand a few years ago. He was quoted as saying something to the effect of "The next great musical movement to impress the world will come from the Pacific". I feel this statement has a lot of truth in it and if Te Vaka can be a part of a group of artists working to achieve or make that prediction come true, then I will not only feel privileged but very satisfied at achieving much of my goal as a Polynesian artist." Opetaia Foa'i