NZ HIP HOP STAND UP - THA FEELSTYLE 'SUAMALIE'
Rapped nearly entirely in Samoan, Tha Feelstyle’s 2004 single ‘Suamalie’ was a tribute to the islands of the artist behind the track, Kas Futialo, and helped inspire Pacific artists in Aotearoa to incorporate their native tongue into their hip hop.
Kas Futialo is a quiet but observant musician. And he says hip hop is what gave him a voice.
By 2004, he was already heavily active on the New Zealand hip hop scene having worked with other hip hop pioneers like King Kapisi and DJ Raw. When the time came to record a debut album, Kas was yearning to reconnect with his ancestral home and birthplace in Samoa which he left when only nine years old.
“I did not want to come to New Zealand, I begged my auntie that I was staying with that I didn’t want to go”, Kas says, adding that he listened to Samoan music to connect with a life on the islands that he never lived.
So when it came to writing lyrics, the rapper was ‘prolific’ with many books and significant time dedicated to his rhymes. DJ Viani and King Kapisi describe him as being fascinated with the Samoan language.
Produced by DJ Raw on his garage set up in Wellington, Futialo finished the final lyrics for ‘Su'Amalie’ and recorded them in an hour and a half. With the song, the Samoan artist saw it as a tribute to the ancestral land that he’d left as a kid.
“As a hip hop artist, the dream is to go to New York, the home of hip hop. For me, my dream was to go back to Samoa and say I did something good,” Kas says. And with Su'Amalie’s music video, he got to do exactly that.
Returning to his hometown, the filming trip was ‘more than a music video’ for the artist. Directed by filmmaker Chris Graham, the music featured scenes of Kas Futialo rapping across the picturesque surroundings of his Samoan hometown.
While making the video, the scene with rapping school children was filmed at the real primary school where Kas had been a pupil decades earlier. Another scene featured the moment that the musician reunited with his family after being apart since he was a child. For Kas Futialo, filming the video was ‘very overwhelming’ and led him on ‘a journey back home’.
When released, the track made it into the Top 40 and went on to win Pacific Song of the year. But even bigger than the impact that the track made on release was the pathway it unlocked for other artists who heard Kas’ unique Samoan rapping.
“I listened to another couple of Samoan rappers and they were rapping exactly like Kas,” says King Kapisi.
Scribe, who is also Samoan, added: “I admire him for the road he took, he might not have been the most popular, but if you were a Samoan and you were studying hip hop, you would know Kas.”
For Kas Futialo, in his words, it was to give “another Samoan the option.”
About the artist:
Kas Futialo was born on the Samoan island of Upolu in the 1980s and moved to New Zealand when he was only nine despite wanting to stay on his ancestral land. As a teenager who was still learning English, he lived with his aunt and attended St Patrick’s College in Wellington. He first interacted with the emerging hip hop scene through a rap competition in 1987, that also featured Upper Hutt Posse, and soon he began making himself known. With DJ Raw and King Kapisi, he helped form The Overstayers in 1995.
In 1998, he released his first track under Tha Feelstyle. In 2004, Su'Amalie was part of the artist’s debut album, Break It To Pieces, which saw accolades from reviewers and several wins at the inaugural Pacific Music Awards. Following the success of his first album, the musician went on to release several other tracks in later years. Futialo’s last album, Good Morning Samoa, won Best Pacific Music Album at the New Zealand Music Awards in 2012 and was nominated for three other awards at the Pacific Music Awards.