Interview with Te Vaka Founder Opetaia Foa’i

Te Vaka
Te Vaka


Polynesian fusion band Te Vaka has a new album titled Amataga (Warm Earth Records, 2015). Te Vaka’s founder, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, choreographer and composer Opetaia Foa’I talks to World Music Central about the band’s background.

Can you give our readers a brief history of Te Vaka?

Formed in 1995. Began touring internationally from 1997, with 8 albums now and another to be released end of 2016.

Te Vaka performing a Polynesian dance
Te Vaka performing a Polynesian dance


Te Vaka members performing a Polynesian dance
Te Vaka performing a Polynesian dance

What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?

The language, the stories, chants, log and skin drums.

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

From traditional chants and dances of the South Pacific to Jimi Hendrix, Peter Gabriel, Ali Farka Toure plus many more.

Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.

The first album was something that I needed to do, so there was much excitement in the studio at that time and I found out that I can quickly create songs in that kind of environment.

The experience of sharing the WOMAD stages around the world with some amazing bands was a big influence in my writing the next four albums

To collaborate with others is probably what I’d like to do more of at this stage.


Te Vaka
Te Vaka


Your current band include family members. Tell us about the musicians in your current band.

My son, Matatia is on drums. Olivia, my daughter, plays keys, sings and dances. They are amazing as they keep the band together and me in line. The other members are chosen depending on the gig.

Your lyrics incorporate influences from various Polynesian islands. What languages do you use?

Tokelau, Samoa, Tuvalu and English.

What are the differences and connections between the music of Tokelau, Tuvalu, Samoa, Cook Islands and New Zealand?

Stories, chants, dances and language. Though they sound different, you can tell they all came from the same canoe. It’s just a matter of emphasis.

What musical instruments do you use?

Puha (wooden box), pate ulu, toa, liki (log drums), pa’u vili, loko, malu (skin drums), guitars.

You currently live in Australia. How do you keep in touch with the Polynesian island culture?

I fly to New Zealand regularly, and to Samoa last year. Keeps me connected.

Do you have any initiatives to transmit Polynesian music and dance traditions to new generations?

I think my involvement with Disney as songwriter on their next major release will get not just the music but the Polynesian culture into many homes around the world.

If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?

Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Mozart.

Do you have any upcoming projects to share with us?

Working on album no.9 and on a Disney musical movie.




Te Vaka (ARC Music, 1997, re-released through Warm Earth Records)

Ki mua (Warm Earth Records, 2000)

Nukukehe (Warm Earth Records, 2002)

Tutuki (Warm Earth Records, 2004)

Olatia (Warm Earth Records, 2007)

Haoloto (2009)

Havili (2011)

Amataga (Warm Earth Records, 2015)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites and Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.


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