Lesā Metitilani Alo released a single last year that took to the heart of the all-too-familiar situation of our Samoa youth having to leave the safety and comfort of their homes, their families and communities to pursue better futures and advance themselves through education, sports or employment.
Just months after its release last August, “Alo i Ou Faiva” has already become Samoa’s most popular farewell song for anyone leaving home, and one that will no doubt stand the test of time and continue to be sung for generations to come.
Samoa Global News kicks off its new Up Close and Personal series with this Q&A interview with a Son of Samoa who holds a Bachelor of Music (MusB) and a Postgraduate Diploma of Music (PGDipMus) majoring in Performance with Distinction.
Lesā has broken many barriers with his achievements in music, not only at the University of Otago where Pacific Islanders are now known to dive into the study of performing arts, but also with gospel music by incorporating rap and hip hop into traditional EFKS hyms.
Here’s the first of our 2020 Q&A series where we hope to celebrate the achievement of Samoans, both back home and around the globe.
Q: Your single Alo i Ou Faiva has grasped the people of Samoa, not only back home but across the globe. What inspired the song and lyrics for you?
A: The song was inspired by the words and blessings from my parents, church and family as I prepared to embark on my university studies and move away from home. The chorus of the song came to me during a rough season of my 3rd year at university.
It was my reflection upon the blessings from my parents and family that really moved me to write the chorus. Also the ideas around ‘faiva’ and ‘se faiva e tapua’ia’ are universal themes that resonate with Samoans.
There’s a unique beauty and peace that we feel knowing that our journeys we embark on in life are guided by the prayers and blessings of our families, villages, and churches. This was what Agaseata Livi and I were really trying to capture and portray in the music and lyrics.
Q: Tell us about yourself. Growing up .. We know you are EFKS Te Atatu but where did you go to school and what made you go all the way down to Otago for University? What degrees in music do you have? And are there further studies in music you aspire to?
A: I grew up in Massey, Auckland. I went to Royal Road Primary School and then moved on to Massey High School.
High School was where I decided that music was my “thing” and that I wanted to take the creative arts seriously.
One of my music teachers in high school, Mr David Flyger, had his Otago music degrees hanging on the wall by his desk in the music department office. We always used to hang out there after school and one day I asked him where Otago was (I had NO idea lol) and from that day, I knew Otago was where I wanted and needed to be.
My music teacher had completed his Bachelor of Music in Contemporary Performance. That was the exact field I wanted to major in so he helped with my applications and to get me through the audition process.
Fast forward to 2011, I graduated high school, picked up a University of Otago Scholarship and was getting ready to head down to Dunedin at the start of 2012.
The music school at the University of Otago was definitely the right place for me and the course was amazing!
In 2015, I completed my Bachelor of Music (MusB) Majoring in Contemporary Performance.
At the end of 2015 I received a scholarship to continue into postgraduate studies and in 2017 I graduated with my Postgraduate Diploma of Music (PGDipMus.) majoring in Performance with Distinction.
I am still working towards a Masters Degree with a focus on Music Performance and Indigenous Studies.
Q: EFKS Te Atatu. What are your fondest memories?
A: Man, so many memories! One of the best memories I’ll always treasure is the music. I’ve been so blessed to have been immersed and exposed to so many beautiful songs and pieces of music over the years.
From the old school hymns of the aufaipese to the old school Gospel and RnB that my siblings and their generation of the youth used to listen to while I was growing up. These are all the influences I draw on today when I write my own music and I’m so thankful for that exposure to such a vibrant spectrum of music.
Also, we’ve done so many awesome projects over the years. Youth services, Easter camps, full scale productions, community work and fundraisers to name a few. All of these seasons of coming together for a cause or a faamoemoe and really working together to put our best foot forward has been a highlight of my upbringing in EFKS Te Atatu.
Each of these seasons bring about their own memories of laughter, stress, tears and joy. It’s these memories and stories that I’ll treasure for a lifetime and share with my children and all those I connect with in the hope that they, too, may find inspiration and forge new and fond memories of their own in whatever season and space they galue in.
Q: We see that the Faifeau Toeaina Malolo Manumalo Reverand Elder Lucky and Terri Slade feature in the music video for Alo i Ou Faiva. Would you like to share more about that with us?
A: Man, where do I begin. Lucky and Terri are my second parents. The Slade’s are like my second family and home. I’ve been so blessed to have Lucky and Terri as my spiritual parents.
Not only have they been supportive of everything and that I have done over the years, they have opened doors for me and provided countless opportunities for me to grow and develop into the young man I am today.
I was so happy that they agreed to be a part of the music video for Alo i ou Faiva. I thought it was only right that as they reached the final months of their time at Te Atatu, they be a part of the launch of my career as an artist, as a way of honouring them; and the product itself being a testament to their prayers and tausiga these many years.
It really was an emotional time on set with Tamā and Tinā. There are some scenes in the video that we could only shoot once because I fully broke down during filming. Especially the one-on-one scenes with Tamā. I’m so glad they were able to be a part of the project.
With Tamā and Tinā retiring as Faifeau Toeaina Malolo, their departure will definitely leave a huge gap. We’ve grown up with Terence, Ena and Tufou as well as the older boys and there’s a certain norm associated with the physical act of coming to church.
Whenever we come to church our minds have been conditioned to know that when we get there, Terence will be there, Tamā and Tina will be there, Fouena and Tufou will be there. With that no longer being the reality, it will require a conditioning for us to adjust, and it’s really really sad to think about.
Q: The amazing album Faafetai i Le Atua – 2018 finalist in 3 categories, winning Best Gospel Album in the Vodafone Pacific Music Awards. Finalist for Best Worship Artist in the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards. You really broke barriers with reggae versions of traditional EFKS hymns mixed in with pop and an orchestral soundtrack, but with hip-hop and even rap! Can you tell us more about that project and how it all came together.
A: The Faafetai Le Atua album was an idea that had been floating around for a while between the Toeaina, myself and a couple of the youth leaders. At the end of 2016 I was wrapping up my postgraduate studies and thinking ahead towards the new year. I emailed Tamā and pitched the idea to him and we agreed to meet once I was back in Auckland.
2017 arrived and my brother Neli and I scheduled a time to meet with Tamā, Tinā and Terence to pitch the idea again and see how we could bring this to life. We wanted the album to be our taulaga as the Junior Youth in commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the EFKS Te Atatu Church which was happening in October that year.
It was a warm Summers night on the first Sunday of 2017. We were sitting outside the faapaologa of the Church right outside Lucky’s vestry in the dark. It was that night we agreed we would start getting the ball rolling with bringing the album project to life. We had no money, no idea as to how we would get the money to fund the project. All we knew was that it was going to happen and that we had faith that God would provide the resources and provisions to make it happen.
‘Faafetai le Atua’ was really a labour of love. I took a year off from studies to come home and take care of my mum who was sick at the time. It also allowed me to commit to the album full time. It was such an intense yet rewarding experience. In 10 months we managed to put the album together, fundraise, record it and have it ready for release in October to coincide with our Church 40th Anniversary Celebrations.
Looking back to that year, it really was a project that had God’s hand and guidance over it. Not only were we able to fund the album and release it, we were also able to bring EFKS Music to the forefront in Pacific Music and place our EFKS name along side the mainstream names of Pacific Aotearoa music.
For our EFKS Junior Youth in general, we’ve been so blessed to have grown up in an environment where we’ve been allowed opportunities to take part in so many camps, fellowships and projects that bring us together constantly. I think that’s what’s really behind our youth dynamic.
Q: So who is Metitilani Alo, tell us about your parents and your family, where you are from in Samoa..
A: My Dad is Leaanā Lesā Metitilani Taeao Taito Alo Pulou from the villages of Saanapu and Malie. My mum is Avei Alo née Neli from the villages of Maagiagi and Lalomalava.
I’m the youngest of 3 kids. The eldest is my sister Fuarosa. She’s a teacher and is currently living and working in Japan at Seisen International School. She’s the real backbone of our family. After Rosa is my brother Neli. He’s an A’oa’o i’u mai Malua and works as a Financial Capabilities Coordinator for Vaka Tautua.
Neli is the one that holds it down for us and takes care of Mum and Dad while Rosa and I are away. Neli is also the only one married with kids out of the siblings. He’s got three kids and Mum and Dad’s only grandchildren, Joshua Faafouina Alo, Abigail Elisapeta Alo and Caleb Vili Alo.
Q: Where to from here? What’s next for you?
A: My plan is to wrap up my studies in the new year and take stock of where I can head academically.
Creatively, I’m planning on releasing an album in the new year. After the release of Alo i ou Faiva a lot of people were like, “e iai la se CD?” so I’m now keen to deliver on that request not only for me but for our people.
Music aside, I also have a small Dunedin based arts collective, Brown Bruce Creative. We’re a small team of 4. In 2020 we’re really wanting to push our work and brand out further so will definitely be working on content under the Brown Bruce umbrella.
The most important plan is to be in a stable situation where I can work, do what I love and take care of Mum and Dad. That’s the goal.
Q: What do you have as advice for other young aspiring Pacific Island musicians?
A: Great question. My encouragement to our young aspiring PI Muso’s and Artists would be to never stop refining your craft. Keep working hard on your craft and always remember to enjoy yourself while doing so.
I also enourage my fellow artists to not be afraid or mā to show our culture, our upbringing and our aiga through our music and content we are creating. When we do showcase our culture and all things that portray our aiga and home, do so in a way that is real and full, rather than as a token input.
Something one of the uso’s Nanai Viellani Peteru from Punialava’a shared with me as we prepared to head on tour last year really resonated with me.
He said, “There’s no need for any of us to be competing with each other in this music space; there’s enough room for all of us to flourish and be amazing alongside each other.”
I hope a lot of us who are on the come-up or are already there in the music space feel this way too.
My last piece of advice is to always remember home. Manatua le Atua, manatua le tapuaiga a nu’u, ekalesia ma aiga. ❤️
Q: Ok this is an Up Close and Personal interview so we have to ask, o fai sau uo? (do you have a girlfriend?)
A: Haha no girl at the moment, so yes, still very much single. My life currently revolves around and is focused on my role as a student, a faipese, an artist and a son. So for now, the single life is the way to go 😂.