Samoan music hard to explain: ethnomusicologist

Samoan ethnomusicologist, choir director and composer Rita Seumanutafa has spoken of the complexities surrounding Samoan music and its history.

Currently a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne’s Conservatorium of Music, Ms Seumanutafa told the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme that Samoan music is complex and a lot of the island’s historical music has been lost.

"Samoan music is quite hard to explain these days. A lot of our historical music has been lost, and when I say that, I mean music that occurred long before European settlement and missionary contact with the Samoa islands,” she said.

"But what we do know about Samoan music from back in that time, is that it was very chant-like and it was for ceremonial use, and our ancestors used it within ceremony, much like how we do today, just differently."

As an ethnomusicologist, Ms Seumanutafa studies music in culture and the way people use music in their daily lives, how music is used to celebrate identities and to express themselves. Music is a tool for people to express themselves whether they're sad, happy, unsure of things or want to make sense of the world, she added.

"I believe that listening to music, performing music, creating music is so enriching and something that you need for yourself.”

Ms Seumanutafa founded a choir called Pasefika Vitoria Choir in 2016 wherein the Pacific Community united to sing in what she described as a “jam session.”

Leading the choir makes her feel very empowered and she referred to the choir members as her family. 

History awaits Ms Seumanutafa as she would become the first Pacific islander to graduate with a Doctorate in Music from the Conservatorium of Music.

"I believe I am the only Pacific Islander coming out of that conservatorium currently and quite possibly, I’ve been told that I will be the first Pacific Islander to graduate with a Doctorate of Music from the Conservatorium of Music and that’s something I’m really proud of.”

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