Beats go on at Samoana

On their fifth anniversary, the team behind the Samoana Jazz and Arts Festival say they are just as energised as ever about their founding mission: bringing jazz back to Samoa.

Siteine Peta Si’ulepa, Luamanuvae Lisa Taeoalii and Theresa Ulberg say their festival has done what it originally set out to achieve: to elevate the local status of jazz and bring the best international Samoan jazz musicians home to share their talent.

But this year the team has decided to shift the date of the November festival to make it schools and students to participate.

A new date, in line with the United Nations’ International Jazz Day on April 30th, means the festival will now run from the 30th until the 3rd of May 2020.

“To me, the most worthwhile experience from all of this was the interest that these bands from overseas had in imparting their musical knowledge with our young people,” Luamanuvae said.

“These musicians are not just here to play but to be part of the community and see where we are at as far as music goes.”

The festival has taken many forms over the years. 

For its first year, the team built a stage on the lawn outside Sails Restaurant and Bar, and two years later closed off a part of the Marina to traffic for the concerts. 

It has also been a site of fusion between contemporary jazz and Samoan music, where artists explore the “natural fit” between the two to craft new music.

“There is a natural fit with the swing rhythm and the Samoan beat,” Siteine said.

“There are a lot of contemporary Samoan musicians who have picked up both Jazz and Samoan music and it is just such a lovely fit.”

In the beginning, they experienced a pushback against the idea of a jazz festival, she said, “because of the perception of jazz that it was seen as elitist.

“So first of all, we wanted to tell our people in Samoa that Jazz has been here since the 1900’s.”

One of their earliest goals was to tell the story of Samoan singer Mavis Rivers, which they managed to do last November with the help of her son, Grammy Award winning La’auli Matt Catingub.

He brought a Mavis Rivers Tribute Band to perform to a full house at Taumeasina Island Resort, where they performed jazz favourites to a full house, including the songs she performed with Frank Sinatra.

The band even performed the song Ms. Rivers was singing the night she died, cutting it short at the same place she did when she passed away, before finishing it for her. 

“It’s think it’s my time, and I want to go out singing” La’auli said his mother had said to him that night, before getting on the stage.

“Not tonight, we’ve got too many plans,” he told her. But half way through ‘I Got It Bad,’ famously recorded by Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee in 1941, she got her wish.

To help tell Mavis Rivers’ story and that of jazz in the two Samoas, Samoa’s festival chair Galumalemana Steven Percival filmed ‘A Tale of 2Samoas – the untold story of Jazz’ which was released this year.

The documentary explores a corner of the world not often associated with jazz music, but one that has a 100 year history with the genre.  

Samoa and American Samoa’s relationship with jazz, and several years of celebrating its music was noticed by jazz aficionado Herbie Hancock, who invited Siteine to join him on the International Jazz Day celebration panel in Melbourne earlier this year.

“I was so shocked that we got invited, but we are the only ones in the Pacific region that celebrate International Jazz Day as consistently as we do,” she said.

“It’s not about size, we are in the heart of the Pacific. That is what jazz music is about, it’s about the heart of things.

“You have to perform as a unit and you have to be able to understand each other for good jazz to happen,” Siteine added.

“You can’t just get on stage and put your ego there, turn up and play louder than the others. No, it’s a language of respect, of unity, of hearing each other and giving each other space.”

To honour their five year anniversary, Siteine and the team will be putting on an expo in November for the stakeholders and sponsors of the festival.

Rather than presenting a report of their supporter’s investments, they want to show the group what has been done with their money over the years, including showing them the documentary. 

“We wanted to actually demonstrate, bring them together and give them a treat after reporting back to them of live jazz music,” Siteine said.

As a fledgling non-profit run exclusively by volunteers, the Samoana team need all the help they can get to put on a festival in both Samoa and American Samoa each year. 

The event, which they’ve called Celebrate Expo 2019, is also an opportunity to honour two founding members of the festival committee, recently retired chair Tuatagaloa Joe Annandale and Fagafaga Daniel Langkilde.

Fagafaga, who passed away in May this year aged 61, was the chairman of the American Samoa board of directors for the festival, and a keen singer and drummer.

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