The leader of Pacific band Te Vaka, Opetaia Tavita Foa'i is back in New Zealand where the inspiration to compose the No1 hit for Disney's animated film "Moana" came to mind.
Te Vaka was commissioned to help compose and produce the official soundtrack about a Polynesian Princess. One of the songs is getting a lot of attention is "We know the way", and the tune is now topping the charts.
Foa'i who currently resides in Australia says he needed to connect with Polynesian backdrop and New Zealand was the first option.
"So I had to come to New Zealand and I found it in a place in Waihi, it was just in a hut and I had to dig a hole outside as a bathroom, that’s how basic it was. I recorded it with Malcolm Smith who lives amongst all these tall kauri trees and I felt the power of the song and that's where it came from."
Foa'i has never learned to read music or had any formal training in music but says the role was a natural progression from his 20 years touring with Te Vaka around the Pacific to sing and talk about how great the Polynesian ancestors were as navigators.
"When this opportunity came from Disney to do something about the ancestors voyaging it was like a dream come true. I felt like I didn’t need to do some research, you could say I’d been researching for 20 odd years, you could say I was working up to this point".
Born and raised in Samoa and Tokelau naturally gave him the skills for the role, he says he was surrounded by music and rhythms during his upbringing.
"It’s not about melodies, it was about chants and rhythms back then, that’s how we passed stories down from generation to generation. That’s why the haka is such a power house because it doesn’t have a melody it’s a chant that tells a story. So it’s very much aligned to where we came from."
Foa‘i is enjoying the satisfaction of doing something that comes from his own roots "In honesty, I would not have done this if Disney would not do this with respect to the culture. But they have been very respectful to the culture."
Moana, explores the open waters in hope of finding new land, in the film the uplifting tune of "We know the way" written and sung by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa’I is said to awaken the Pacific spirit.
"You can’t just grab a song from Moana and place it in Aladdin or Lion King, it just wouldn’t work. So that’s why this is specifically for the Moana movie."
Opetaia Tavita Foa’i will join some of the Moana cast tonight at the New Zealand premiere of Moana at Sylvia Park, Auckland.