Kiwi songwriter hits the big time with new Disney soundtrack
Sir Elton John might be the Lion King, but Opetaia Foa'i is the pride of the Pacific.
The Samoan-born New Zealand-raised musician has spent the last three years composing music for the next Disney animated movie Moana, which is set for release in November this year.
The big budget Disney production will tell the story of a young woman who uses her navigational talents to set sail for a fabled island. Joining her on the adventure is her hero, the legendary demi-god Maui.
Moana features the voice of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson" as Maui, while the title character will be voiced by newcomer Auli'i Cravalho.
Foa'i is part of a music team which includes Mark Mancina, who is writing the official score, and lyricist Lin Manuel Miranda, whose musical Hamilton is currently taking Broadway by storm.
Foa'i said his main aim was to do a good job of telling the stories of the Pacific.
"Moana is going to be released in pretty much every country in the world and translated into their languages, so if I can do a good job then other cultures will have a better appreciation and understanding of Pacific culture and music.
At the time Foa'i signed up to the project in December 2013, the studio hadn't yet approached Johnson.
"When they were talking about who might be best suited to the role, Dwayne's name came up. They looked at me and said, because his mum is from Samoa, if we can't get him is there anything you can do? And I said, 'yeah, I will personally go and see his mum'." He was so keen though, I didn't need to do that."
"Disney is very excited because it is something quite different to what they are used to," Foa'i says. "The music is going to be very Pacific but it will be very relatable just like the music that was written for The Lion King and Frozen.
"I made the mistake, when I first went to Disney of saying to my music team, 'it's only an animation". Then they had to remind me that Frozen was their fourth highest grossing movie of all time [it's now the highest grossing animated movie of all time] and The Lion King is one of the biggest selling soundtracks of all time."
Foia'i said he had until May to complete all of the music.
That means possibly another 10 songs on top of the 12 songs he has already submitted.
"Sometimes when we get together we'll take an idea from one song and work it into another. They are very happy with what i have written but I'm learning that as the script is improved and they pick up on things about the culture that I am aware of, they work that into the storyline and that might mean changing the feel of a song."
Foa'i came to Disney's attention when they bought up the whole back catalogue of Te Vaka, the group he leads.
- Sunday Star Times