Te Vaka Beats Move More than Feet

Molokai enthralled by award-winning Polynesian group.

By Catherine Cluett

Tongue out and feet stamping, Etueni Pita follows the movements of his Tokelauan ancestors. Beside him, Tremayne Lihou’s grass skirt shakes as she gestures and steps. Over two hundred faces of Molokai are watching their every move.

Pita and Lihou are members of Te Vaka, a Polynesian music group that has completed five world tours, performed in 37 countries, and recorded five albums. Thanks to generous sponsorship from a variety of organizations, Molokai was able to enjoy a free performance on the lawn of the Molokai Public Library last Wednesday.

Along with such instruments as guitar, keyboard and flute, members also played instruments like the “pate liki” or “little drum” and the “pa`u vili” or “running drum.” Voices, instruments and dance combined for rich artistically and culturally unforgettable experience.

Opetaia Foa’i is the songwriter and lead vocalist of the group. The inspiration for his music comes from his multi-cultural upbringing, born in Samoa and raised in a Tokelauan community in New Zealand. Every song had a story, and all are written in Foa’i’s native pacific tongue, Tokelauan.

Melodee Panapa, on vocals, taught an enthralled audience how to do the “wiri,” a motion of relaxing the fingers and shaking the hands, often accompanied by sticking out the tongue. She explained it is used in war dances and chants, as well as to draw energy from the earth.

“I’ve heard that Molokai has good dancers,” said Foa’i during the performance. “I can see people moving – it starts with the toes and moves to the knees and next thing you know, you’re dancing,” he laughed. “C’mon Molokai, get up and dance!”

Soon young and old were rising to their feet, getting wrapped up in the rhythms. Many were too captivated to move.

Te Vaka currently consists of 12 members, several of whom are members of Foa’i’s family. “The members are normally auditioned but I joined the group when I was 12,” says Manase Foa’i, son of the songwriter. “Most of us in the group have know each other and been close for a long time,” he adds.

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