Blending contemporary influences into their traditionally-based sound, the Polynesian group Te Vaka has thrilled audiences around the world with its spirited music that incorporates powerful log drum percussion, jubilant chant, heavenly harmonies and chiming guitars.
In traditional Polynesian society, the log drum served as a community bell drawing villagers to important meetings. In the hands of this dynamic, New Zealand-based band, drumming serves to convey the cultural accomplishments and contemporary concerns of Pacific islanders.
"We have highlighted issues that were news to a lot of our audience, European and Pacific alike," explains Te Vaka's founder Opetaia Foa'i. "For example the slave ships that took thousands of our Pacific people into slavery; also social issues like HIV, and environmental issues like the sea level rising, that we've got to deal with today. These are things we sing about."
* Te Vaka performs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater. Tickets are $40, $30, and $12, half-price for kids and students 18 and younger plus applicable fees. For more information, call 242-7469.
Photo courtesy of MACC
The band's latest album, "Olatia," closes with a powerful plea for environmental responsibility, "Our Ocean," that was commissioned by Greenpeace. The opening track "Samulai" (Samurai) on their fourth album, "Tutuki," addressed Japanese overfishing of the Pacific, and "Vaka Atua" on "Ku Mua" described the destruction of Native culture by missionaries.
Te Vaka comprises 11 musicians and dancers from Tokelau, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, Samoa and New Zealand. Their songs are almost all sung in the language of Tokelau, an original dialect of old Polynesia, which is still spoken today on tiny coral atolls north of Samoa.
"Tokelau is a Polynesian group of four islands with a population of approximately 1,500 people," Foa'i notes. "It lays approximately midway between New Zealand and Hawaii."
Te Vaka's journey began in 1995, stemming from Foa'i's frustration with playing in a cover band, combined with a developing fascination with stories about his Tokelauan and Tuvaluan ancestors. Armed with a vision of creating original, contemporary Pacific music, the band soon garnered glowing reviews wherever it played.
London's Evening Standard hailed them as "New Zealand's hottest export after lamb chops," and a reviewer in Britain's daily The Guardian enthused, their show was "one of the most dynamic live experiences I have ever witnessed."
"We have grown to appreciate more and more what we set out to achieve from the outset, which is to tell the stories of the original pioneers of the Pacific, their way of life and their awesome maritime achievements," says Foa'i.
"We have done this at every gig we've performed at and in every awesome country we have been to and that's 35 countries to date and a lot of gigs."
Typically drawing standing ovations wherever they perform, the musicians have sometimes contended with cultural stereotypes encountering audiences a little surprised to hear pounding log drums.
"One that comes to mind is Ronnie Scott's (Club), the home of jazz in London," Foa'i recalls. "I felt like I had committed a crime walking in by the looks on some faces. Luckily they were smiling at the end of the show and invited us back."
Legendary U.K. dub producer and remixer the Mad Professor lands on Maui for a historic one-night-only gig on Wednesday at Charley's. Over the years, the Professor has remixed music for Sade, Depeche Mode, Jamiroqui, Massive Attack and Perry Farrell, and worked with reggae artists like Sly & Robbie, Pato Banton and Marty Dread. His albums include "Method to the Madness," "Under the Spell of Dub" and "The Dubs That Time Forgot."
"He recreates his Ariwa Sounds studio live on stage with a mixing deck and a whole bunch of analog toys," says the Mad Professor's manager, Will Grinnell. "He has up to 36 tracks going at once, it's like the Jimi Hendrix of mixing."
"Legendary U.K. dub colossus The Mad Professor came to Wellington and whipped up a dancehall reggae storm," raved a recent review in New Zealand's The Evening Post. "Even curmudgeonly old rock critics were seen shaking a tail feather."
The Professor (a.k.a. Neil Fraser) earned his moniker as a young boy, building a radio from scraps in his native land of Guyana. After moving to England at the age of 13, the Professor was introduced to reggae music, and in the late '70s, he built his own recording studio.
In conjunction with his island tour, the CD "Mad Professor Ariwa Posse Hawaii" has been compiled. It includes a remix of Marty Dread's "No Ice in Paradise," a reggae mix of Willie Nelson's "Peaceful Solution" and Macka B's "Bob."
The Charley's show will also feature Jamaican singer Susan Cadogan, best known for her hit records in the 1970s. Teaming with the Professor, Cadogan released the album "2 Sides of Susan," which includes her hit single, "Hurt So Good."
* Marty Dread will open for the Mad Professor. The show starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance from Bounty Music, Requests, The Wine Corner, Wokstar and West Side Vibes, and $25 at the door.
Founding Hapa musician Keli'i Kaneali'i makes a rare return to Maui, performing solo on Friday at Mulligan's on the Blue and on Saturday at Charley's.
Since leaving Hapa after 18 years playing with Barry Flanagan, Keli'i has made his home on Kauai, where he plays a couple of nights a week at Saffron in Princeville.
"I learned a lot and had a great journey," he says about his Hapa days. "Barry and I had a good time, it was all good. I needed to do something else. My style has changed. I've grown as a guitar player, and I have a different style of my own."
Like a number of Hawaiian musicians, Keli'i has found lucrative work in Japan where he has performed with his wife, Healani. In March, he released a hula CD, "Na Mele," exclusively for the Japanese market.
With regard to a Hawaii release, he's currently working on a new recording for the Mountain Apple label, which will include some songs from the Japanese CD. Mountain Apple just released a new Christmas collection, "Christmas Aloha," which includes the old Hapa instrumental "Joy to The World" from "Hapa Holidays."
He says he prefers performing as a solo musician, because "you're free to move where you want in a song." At his Maui shows, Keli'i says he will play "some of my own songs, my favorites, some Hapa stuff and covers like 'Lady In Red,' songs that I can make my own."
* Keli'i Kaneali'i performs at 8 p.m. on Friday at Mulligan's on the Blue, and at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Charley's in Paia. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. Advance tickets available at Bounty Music, call 871-1141.
Under the direction of conductor Stuart Chafetz, the Maui Pops Orchestra will perform a special Halloween Spooktacular concert at 3:30 p.m. Sunday in Castle Theater. This fun family event will spotlight familiar music from Hollywood movies.
"It's the Pops goes to the movies," Chafetz explains. "So we have famous movie themes like 'Pirates of the Caribbean,' 'Harry Potter' and 'Gladiator.' "
The concert will also salute Westerns and pay tribute to acclaimed composer John Williams with music from "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "E.T." and "Star Wars." "We will also have 'Star Trek' through the generations, and a tribute to Frank Sinatra," he adds.
There will be prizes for the best costumes, both in the audience (child and adult) and the orchestra.
* Tickets to the Maui Pops Spooktacular concert at 3 p.m. Sunday in Castle Theater are $10, $21, $25 and $36, and half-price for kids 12 and younger, plus applicable fees, available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
* Contact Jon Woodhouse at jon email@example.com.