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The canoe skipper

Ioane Burese
Sunday, February 21, 2010

OPETAIA FOA'I continues to guide with ease what can only be described as one of the greatest South Pacific bands of all time - Te Vaka.

Since the establishment of the group in New Zealand 15 years ago, Te Vaka's music has encapsulated the heart and soul of the Pacific, Polynesia specifically.

And, in the process, it has crushed underfoot once and for all the widely-held perception that Pacific music is only about ukeleles and hip-swaying hula girls.

With his trademark open-key acoustic guitar, Foa'i steers Te Vaka - "The Canoe" - up several notches with the release of their latest South Pacific fusion CD Haoloto - their sixth since their self-titled debut album in 1997.

But in doing so, the band doesn't stray an inch from the world-renowned Te Vaka tradition of adrenaline-pumped tribal percussions and soft-rockish ballads that pack the potential to pop goosebumps, or even reduce one to tears.

While categorised "world music", several of the 15-track CD are definitely crossover material, particularly the anti-drug cut Well ... you lied,which lead female vocalist Olivia Foa'i delivers with a passionate, forceful grace.

The vocal arrangement here is eerily reminiscent of the 1992 Herbs and Annie Crummer collaboration See What Love Can Do.

In an acknowledgement on the CD sleeve, Opetaia describes the record as "the most challenging and most satisfying of all the Te Vaka albums".

He says: "Once the canoe got rolling with all on board, there was a feeling that we were heading for somewhere special".

Te Vaka has also been heading all over the world since day one. The multi-award-winning ensemble has globe-trotted ceaselessly and performed at prestigious venues in Europe, the Rugby World Cup in Paris, the Beijing Olympics, the United States and throughout the region.

Haoloto is a special dedication to the victims of the tsunami in Tonga and Samoa and the earthquakes that claimed over a thousand lives in Indonesia.

Opetaia writes: "We owe much to groups like the Red Cross, Oxfam and the Volunteer Ministers (the flash of yellow) and all other emergency response groups like them.

"It is with great respect for their hard work and care that I dedicate this album to them."

But most of all, in this writer's humble opinion, the music of Te Vaka is a kind of rallying call for people of the Pacific diaspora, no matter where in the world they have established their new Jerusalem.

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