Te Vaka - we are family

Opetaia Foa’i has been busy writing the music for Disney’s upcoming animated movie Moana but he’s still found time to get the family together for a new Te Vaka album Amataga.

Te Vaka's Opetaia Foa'i is presented to the world at Disney23 as the man behind the music for its upcoming animated ...
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Te Vaka's Opetaia Foa'i is presented to the world at Disney23 as the man behind the music for its upcoming animated feature Moana.

What does Amataga means and what is the primary message you hope to deliver?

Amataga means "the beginning" – a wish to return to a time of decency and respect for each other as human beings. We have so many agendas creating confusion and taking away many of our human rights. I think it's pretty self-evident if you can get yourself outside the propaganda box to understand what's really happening around us, like the situation in West Papua, which is right in our backyard. People are killed because their land has gold and minerals and their neighbours are afraid to help because they are afraid of a bully.  Anyway, the primary message of the album is to stand up and do the right thing.

In a world where there is so much injustice, which you touch on, how do people stand up and make a difference?

Sometimes it seems as if we have all forgotten the power of our own voice and give up before trying. We can do much more than we think, even if by simply saying that you don't agree, or shaking your head in disagreement when you see an injustice,  you are doing something. We are all part of this family called man and we all feel innately that it's true. I truly believe we were born knowing the difference between good and bad. There's good people out there doing great work and, as a songwriter, it's a way for me to add my voice to it too.

After so many years, has your focus around making music changed?

Definitely,  The inspiration for Te Vaka in the beginning was very deep and probably too serious at times, but I was on this mission to tell the stories of my ancestors, especially their awesome achievements on the sea, to anyone who would listen. That focus has now changed, probably due to the fact that after performing in 40 countries with me telling the same story over and over again, I've got it out of my system now. That part of me is satisfied. 

In the Te Vaka "family", you have brought through so many talented artists – including Livy Clay.  You must be immensely satisfied. 

I have been very lucky to have these talented artists help row this very heavy vaka. Livy Clay is my daughter and an amazing songwriter in her own right. She was brought up on Te Vaka tours, watching the likes of Sulata Foa'i-Amiatu and Vai Mahina performing. I think she's taken that role of lead vox and dancer up a few notches. Also, my two sons on drums and percussion are outstanding. So, yes, I'm very happy about that. 

When can we expect you back performing in New Zealand?

I've been writing music for the Disney feature film Moana since 2013.  It will be released at the end of this year, so my attention is to do a good job there. I'm also writing the 9th Te Vaka album to be released this year as well so, yes, an NZ performance is long overdue but it may have to wait till 2017.

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