By Susana Suisuiki and Finau Fonua of RNZ Pacific
The Vodafone Events Centre in Manukau, Auckland came alive with music, glitz and glam for the first live Pacific Music Awards in two years last night.
The annual ceremony has been held online for the past two years due to covid-19 restrictions.
Fa’anana Jerome Grey was selected as the recipient of the Manukau Institute of Technology Te Pukenga Lifetime Achievement Award.
Grey’s iconic song We Are Samoa became the unofficial anthem of the country and his legacy was celebrated through a tribute performance by Brotherhood Musiq and Resonate.
Grey’s honour came at the end of the night, but up first was the Ministry for Pacific People’s Special Recognition Award, the three winners being Ngaire Fuata, Tagata Pasifika and Niu FM-Pacific Media Network.
PMN CEO Don Mann said that since its establishment in 2002, Niu FM has nurtured many well-known Pacific media personalities.
“It’s a radio station, it’s a multimedia platform but it’s more than that, it’s a gateway for Pacific people to realise their talent,” he said.
“You look at Sela Alo and Sandra Kailahi who’s had time at various media entities so it’s more than just a place than just a media outlet — it’s bigger than that.”
Topped the charts
Just over 30 years ago, Rotuman Ngaire Fuata topped the NZ music charts with her reindition of the 1967 Lulu hit “To Sir With Love”.
Nowadays, Fuata has carved out a successful career in television, particularly producing the flagship Pacific current affairs show Tagata Pasifika.
Futua said having a career in the music or television industry required focus and dedication.
“It takes determination, a determination to do a job and do it right and if I say I’m gonna do something I’m quite committed and driven to complete the job and that’s really important to me.”
East Auckland artist Jarna Parsons, known professionally as Jarna, was awarded the Phillip Fuemana Award for Most Promising Pacific Artist.
Jarna said she was pleased she had plucked up the courage to give music a go during her teens.
“I’ve always just loved music — with family we always did karaoke and that, and I actually didn’t start until the end of high school — I didn’t think anything of it. But then I thought, I might as well give it a go.”
‘Being different is okay’
Samoan metal band Shepherds Reign took out the Creative New Zealand Award and the band members were shocked when they were announced as the winners.
However, Shepherds Reign’s Filivaa James and Oliver Leupolu said that although the majority of Pacific people did not gravitate towards metal or rock, being different was okay.
“There’s always room to do crazy things no one’s done before. I think that’s the biggest message is just don’t be afraid — do whatever you want to do, just like what we did, even our parents were against us but we still went against it, so do what you want to do.”
The inaugural Arch Angel Independent Artist Award was presented to lilbubblegum.
The 18-year-old released his debut single “af1” in 2019, and it quickly became an online sensation during New Zealand’s first covid lockdown in the autumn of 2020.
The viral hitmaker said that pursuing your dreams as a new music artist came at a cost.
“I think the biggest challenge is definitely the tall poppy syndrome, especially in New Zealand, because when you’re doing something different people want to pull you down. You might not be bothering them but they just don’t know — that’s just the way it is in New Zealand.
“I feel like it’s slowly shifting with the newer generation but there’s a few people that feel that way and it’s the hardest thing coming through as a new artist.”
Several first-time finalists won their respective categories including Anthem who were recognised with 531pi Best Pacific Gospel Artist, while Sam V and Lisi were awarded Best Pacific Soul/RnB Artist and Niu FM Best International Pacific Artist respectively.
Passion the driver for rapper
Rapper Lisi, who was born in New Zealand before moving to Australia at the age of three, said having a music career was never part of his plan.
“My dreams weren’t to be a rapper, but I always loved rapping and I guess it just shows passion gets you a lot far in life — the passion for rapping that I had it made me want to start making music and now I’m reaching heights that I’d never thought I’d reach. So yeah it’s massive,” said Lisi — real name Talisi Poasa.
For their work on The Panthers soundtrack, Diggy Dupé, choicevaughan & P. Smith were recognised with the MPG/SAE Best Producer award.
Fellow artist Kings was named for NZ Music Commission Best Pacific Male Artist, and received both the NZ On Air Radio Airplay Award and NZ On Air Streaming Award for his track “Help Me Out” featuring Sons of Zion.
Kingdon Chapple-Wilson, aka Kings, said the awards were an opportunity for him to reconnect with his both his Māori and Samoan identity.
“I think for us, especially for me, my mum was a solo mum, so for her the culture aspect – she was adopted into a Pakeha family so it was really hard for us to identify and so it’s awards like these — its events like these that help to ground somebody to ground me to ground myself into Pasifika, into Māori into who we are.”
Melodownz & Summer Vaha’akolo won NZ On Air Best Pacific Music Video directed by Tom Hern and Timēna Apa, while Kas Futialo received the award for SunPix Best Pacific Language for the album Grandmasta Kas.
Onehunga-based hip hop crew SWIDT took out three awards for Flava Best Pacific Group, Base FM & Island Base Best Pacific Hip Hop Artist and APRA Best Pacific Song for “Kelz Garage”.
Tomorrow People were honoured with One Love Best Pacific Roots/Reggae Artist as well as the Recorded Music Te Pukaemi Toa o Te Moana Nui a Kiwa Best Pacific Music Album for their album 21.
Group member Tana Tupai said that throughout the 10 years of its existence the band had had its fair share of ups and downs.
“Everyone says they don’t do the music thing for awards which is true but just like anything we just worked really really hard. I’m so proud of our team, we sacrificed so much. When I mentioned before about internal struggles they were real. We’re just really proud of the music we’ve put out there.”
Lockdown challenges overcome
Soul and RnB singer Emily Muli, who won Best Pacific Female Artist for her track “Break”, said she did not expect to win the award, despite coming from a strong musical background.
“I came from a Tongan family, I grew up in a Tongan church so it’s not like I had a choice to sing.”
Cook Islands sibling group Samson Squad took home the SunPix People’s Choice Award for Best Pacific Artist.
Tautape Samson said trying to create music during lockdown was a challenge.
“We didn’t expect anything this time around. During covid it was a very hard time for us to produce new music so with the award, with all our friends, fans and supporters really backing us despite covid and everything, I guess we’re for the people and with the people, and we just want to thank the people as well.”
This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.
This content originally appeared on Asia Pacific Report and was authored by APR editor.