ASPIRING OPERA SINGER/PERFORMER &
WINNER OF THE 2019 CREATIVE NZ ARTS PASIFIKA, IOSEFA ENARI MEMORIAL AWARD
I was born and raised in South Auckland, grew up in Manurewa - Rewa Hard - for about 17 years of my life. My family attended a church in Manurewa and still do. My grandfather was a pastor for that church for a good 20 years. I also went to Primary School in Manurewa, played Rugby League for the Manurewa Marlins and I'm really proud to be from Manurewa. I'm a Samoan, my grandparents come from Samoa, my Mums family come from the villages of Vaimoso and Salelologa, Savai'i and my Dads parents come from Fasito'o uta and Fogapoa, Savai'i.
I'm an aspiring opera singer and newly, currently based in London attending the Royal College of Music studying towards a Post Graduate diploma in Vocal Performance. I'm also a member of the Shades which is like a bit of a modern opera quartet which formed at Auckland University where we all met for the first time and we perform regularly in Auckland and around New Zealand too.
Samson and the Shades Quartet
Congratulations on being awarded the Iosefa Enari Memorial award at the Creative New Zealand Pacific Arts Awards last night - can you tell us about the pathways that led you down the music track and more specifically getting into opera?
I was born into a musical family, as I mentioned before my grandfather was a pastor at our family church in Manurewa and his kids - my Dad and his siblings - all played instruments or sang so they had their own little family band and naturally, me, my siblings and my first cousins were born into this family band. From there my siblings and first cousins would meet regularly as we got older and my Dad & his siblings would teach us songs and we would perform every now and then at church so that was good fun and a lot of tears shed also, lots of good lessons learned. So you could say we were on the stage from a very young age and it was very instrumental in my upbringing.
I wasn't really introduced to opera music or classical singing until I was about 16 or 17 when I went to Dilworth School and joined the school choir. The choir conductor Clare Caldwell pulled me aside one night and told me voice was unique and maybe I should consider singing opera. The thought of that made me cringe and laugh at the same time because of course being a young teenager from South Auckland, you think you know it all and that idea didn't sit well with me at first (laughs)
Come to Year 13, I didn't know what I'd do when I left high school and I was looking into joining the Armed Forces or going to play Rugby somewhere but then I remembered Clare had told me about singing and learning music at uni, so I looked more into that and had some encouragement from another Dilworth old boy by the name of Joel Amosa. He's also doing great things himself in the opera world and so both him & Clare encouraged me so I went down to Otago and studied Opera singing for the next couple of years of my life.
I was 21 and about half way through my 3rd year at Otago and I just had enough of it so I thought I'd go up to England and try out some rugby, so I got in touch with a local club in England - Briton - and they asked me to come over and check out the club. So I did that, and they were happy to have me over there and they told me to go home, get my stuff and come back and play a season, then if things went well they could extend the contract. I went back to New Zealand & not sure what happened but I had some sort of epiphany that I should stick with singing so I transferred up to Auckland and this time I understood opera a little bit more, was older and a little bit more mature and really started to appreciate opera music.
So my love for opera didn't really start until a few years ago and since then I've really embraced every singing lesson, singing opportunity and singing challenge.
You've just arrived in London on a full scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London. Can you tell us how you came to be offered the scholarship and what's involved with your studies ...
So I'm studying a graduate diploma in Vocal Performance which is a one year course and from there I'll be looking to do an Opera Course at the Royal College which is about 2 years. I'll be based here for the next wee while and even after my study I'll probably be based here in the UK, US or Europe somewhere just for work and singing opportunities which is the normal transition for opera singers.
Myself and 4 other boys were all part of a foundation formed by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and her foundation members. They've run a programme in New Zealand for the past couple of years where they handpicked 5 young singers and then run modules and courses throughout the year that targeted different components of opera singing. For example we had Language coaching which was one module and would last about a week & then there'd be a module for performing and acting, another module for technique plus vocal coaching.
Dame Kiri and her foundation encouraged us to look at studying abroad and nurtured that idea from last year so I decided that I'd go over to the UK and US in February of this year and do a bit of a consultation tour which is where you go around to different schools and sing for different teachers, see what they think and if it's good enough then they offer you something.
When I did that tour, I didn't actually go to the Royal College but Dame Kiri Te Kanawa has a great relationship with the college & she suggested that they look at me as a candidate for a scholarship. By then it was May and I'd had to send tapes in and recordings so it all happened quite fast - I'd sent the tapes on Friday and by Tuesday they called and said sorry they didn't have anything for me because I was a bit late. Then I got another phone call a couple of days later and they said, actually there's been an opening - are you able to fly tomorrow? So it all happened really quickly, overnight I had to get up to London and with a days rest audition for the school then go for an interview. After that interview they offered me a full scholarship to the school on the spot which was a great blessing and I'm extremely grateful to Dame Kiri and the foundation for their effort, support and help through the years.
What has been your biggest challenge & also your most rewarding moment of your journey?
The biggest challenge for me as a young opera singer was all the stuff that happened off stage. There's always after functions and a lot of the people that come to watch opera are rich, white people - those 2 things of which I am not (laughs) and so I couldn't relate to them at all and I'd just find myself wanting to leave those functions and it was something I really struggled with especially as a younger singer. As I said I'm from South Auckland, I'm a Samoan, I'm not born into wealth and a lot of the time they'd surround you and talk your ears off and I'd just feel uncomfortable. I think the reason I felt uncomfortable was because I'd put on a face or a mask trying to please them but I've got older and matured I've learned just to be myself and I don't apologise for being myself. It's funny now because I've noticed that they love that more you know? They don't mind my slightly hori accent (laughs)
One of my most rewarding moments was when I'd been asked to perform at a concert called 'The Last night of the Proms' which is a British tradition where they sing songs about how great Britain is and how powerful the nation is. Anyway, there's a song that comes near the end of the concert called 'Rule Brittania' which is one of the most racist songs I've ever heard in my life and I'm not sure how it's still being played today around the world but it's tradition. It's an English tradition. So I'm a soloist and they asked me to sing this song and this song is ... yeah, a controversial topic which my singing teacher bought up with me and I just felt immense pride when I sang this because I whipped out a little Samoan flag and I waved it around when I sang this and it was kind of like a message to the Brits saying 'Up Yours!' (Laughs) The conductor had the Union Jack on his back but Samoa took the win that day!
Who or what has motivated or inspired you in your career or through your journey?
God, my family and I've got a little bit of a singing support crew. Like most Polynesian families, they've come here to look for better opportunities and better lives and I'd hate for my grandparents sacrifice to be for nothing. I'd love to make something of myself and make a name for myself in their honour - I want to give back to them and give back to my parents for all they've done for me. Everyone goes through their hard times growing up and I'd love to be able to take care of my parents one day and for them not to worry about anything would make me very happy. Thats what fuels me every day and just to know that there are a lot of people supporting me and backing me.
Also just to be a boy from Manurewa - Rewa Hard - singing on an Opera stage, at first I thought it was kinda wierd but now I think it's special and I'd love to take Manurewa to the world but also knowing that this wouldn't be possible without God.
What advice would you give for other rising Pasifika opera singers?
Work hard - the saying 'Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard' that's so true you know? So work hard but also remember to enjoy the ride. Opera singing for a lot of singers is about longevity and the voice is a tricky thing and it takes it's time to mature. Everyone is different but Opera singing is definitely a long ball game.
What are your plans and dreams for the future?
My plan for the next couple of years is to study and then from there I'll audition for Opera houses to get into a Young Artist programme which is like an internship. From there I'll try and get work as a full on Opera singer either in Europe or America as thats where all the work is. So that's my plan for the next five years.
A dream for me would be to be able to come back to the community of Manurewa or even in Samoa. I'd love to work with troubled youth whether it be giving back through music or through sport. My other passion and dream is rugby - I love rugby - and so I'd love to work with youth one day.