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25-guitar ensemble brings Vitu's Pacific heat to Christchurch

16 January 2007

As the weather hots up the Vitu-Pacific Arts Festival (31 January to 3 February) will add its own sizzle to Christchurch with Pacific Underground’s “Island Summer” by Pos Mavaega with a 25-piece guitar orchestra.

Mavaega will lead 25 guitars and dancers to accompany guest singer Dallas Tamaira – best known as Fat Freddy’s Drop lead singer - at the James Hay Theatre on Friday, 2 Feb, at 8pm.

Pacific Underground is best known for its ground-breaking theatre and music, with plays such as Oscar Kightley and Simon Small’s “Fresh Off The Boat” and Kightley and Erolia Ifopo’s “Romeo and Tusi”. The Christchurch-based performance theatre group was the training ground for such talents as the BroTown crew of Oscar Kightley, Shimpal Lelisi, David Fane, and Mario Gaoa, and hip hop artist Scribe.

Fat Freddy’s Drop lead singer, Dallas Tamaira, also hails from this stable of artists, having played Romeo in Romeo and Tusi, when it first staged at Mona Vale during the Christchurch Arts Festival.

Tamaira now appears in Pos Mavaega’s “Island Summer” - inspired by Samoan music taught to Mavaega by his parents. “Island Summer” is a tribute to Mavaega’s parents and their journey to New Zealand in the late 1950s. It involves music that made the most impact on Mavaega’s life, particularly in 2001 when his mother fell ill.

“Mum was in hospital, in a coma, before she passed away.  Music was on most of the time - all her favourite songs - and one night I was looking through the tapes and CDs.  There were all sorts, from the old Samoan hymns to modern Gospel. I thought that if I played all her favourite hymns to her on my guitar, she would know I was there with her …”

From there Mavaega created a concept of arranging traditional hymns and chants for a guitar orchestra, which became “Island Summer”.  ‘Island Summer’ has been staged in various forms in Christchurch with it’s biggest showing so far at last year’s Applaud Christchurch Arts Festival, featuring guests Adeaze. 

Similar to the Applaud season where Christchurch guitarists from far and wide were recruited to participate, Pacific Underground will recruit guitarists from Dunedin for the Fringe.

 “With a show that can have up to 50 performers, that’s a huge number to tour, so we thought the rest of the orchestra could be recruited in whatever city we perform in. “We’ve always encouraged people to take part in performing arts, through our initiatives, that’s the way it’s been since PU started out in 1992.  It’s a family atmosphere, something our Pasifika people are always good at creating,” says Muagututi’a.

Vitu – Pacific Arts, is a four day gathering of Pacific artists from around the country taking part in workshops, exhibitions, concerts, and artists’ panels.  The annual celebration hosted by Pacific Underground and funded by Creative NZ, The Canterbury Community Trust, Christchurch City Council and supported by Cultural Precinct venues.

Other Vitu-Pacific Arts Festival highlights are the Laughing Samoans comedy show “Off Work” at the James Hay Theatre on Thursday 1 February, Michel Tuffery’s Pacific Arts Trail and the movie “The New Oceania: Albert  Wendt; writer” with a personal appearance by the celebrated writer himself, Albert Wendt.

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