Friday, September 8th, 2017

Te Vaka – Lakalaka

A little Pacific Islands cheer to kick off your weekend…


Thomas Inskeep: It’s a South Pacific party from a collective of over 10 musicians and dancers from South Pacific islands, and apparently a song that helped inspire last year’s animated film Moana. I’ve not seen Moana, though I’ve got a 6-year-old niece and 7-year-old nephew who love it, but this is a fun little tune made for, well, parties. The rhythm may, in fact, get you, as a wise woman once sang.

Rebecca A. Gowns: My stepmom was Hawaiian, and I actually really dig traditional Hawaiian and Polynesian music, as well as the marriage of that sound with modern pop and musical theater that we heard in the Moana soundtrack. This album says it’s what inspired Moana, but this song is sort of a weak offering; the production sounds too tinny and thin, and the arrangement is all off. I admire what they’re going for with this release, though — just one more strand in “world” music being brought more into the mainstream.

Dorian Sinclair: I’m not Pacific Islander, but I am Indigenous. And I think a question a lot of non-Indigenous people struggle with is “what does a living Indigenous culture actually look like?”. There’s a perception that we’re frozen in time, that to evolve and move forward is by necessity to leave our traditions behind. Happily, groups like Te Vaka exist and have been showing for 20+ years exactly how we can preserve ancient forms and keep them feeling vital and alive. No one knows exactly how old the lakalaka is. But this “Lakalaka” is unmistakably new, unmistakably now — while at the same time a part of what has come before.

Alfred Soto: Strong hook, effective arrangement (the acoustic guitar undergirding the chorus, sure, but also the vocal interjections ) — “Lakalaka” is a delight as lived aural experience.

Nortey Dowuona: Drink in bouncy bassline, soft, firm drums cascading and rolling and jittering, and slinky guitar, and watch it all get mixed together by Te Vaka, uniting all of the Pacific with the joy and positivity they seem to radiate like a star.

Cassy Gress: I have listened to this song countless times in the last month because it is so joyful and world-spanning, with chanting and big resonant drum breaks and a highly danceable beat. The only nitpick I can think of is that Olivia Foa’i is not always perfectly in tune in the choruses, but that seems so massively missing the point that it’s not worth deducting for.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: For more than twenty years, Opetaia Foa’i has led the Polynesian ensemble Te Vaka in crafting what they call “South Pacific Fusion.” The result is contemporary takes on South Pacific music with songs that employ the Tokelauan language and traditional instruments from the region. The group inspired the soundtrack to Moana and Foa’i himself penned some of its songs, including its very best. The closest Moana analogue to “Lakalaka,” though, is the upbeat “Logo te Pate.” Both songs feature Foa’i’s daughter Olivia, but she handles primary vocal duties here. The results are a bit mixed — her nasal singing gets grating, and it sounds likes she’s singing off-key at times, but there’s an undeniable liveliness she’s able to inject into the song. Regardless, the hook is strong enough that no singer could ever really be a deal breaker. When watching the music video, you get a sense of the pan-Pacific identity and unity that’s very much at the core of Te Vaka. You can see it very simply in how they’re just happily dancing together, but it’s also present in the dancing itself: it mixes lakalaka, a Tongan dance, with other styles from the South Pacific. Considering lakalaka has historically been used in formal celebrations, it’s fitting that a song with its namesake is brimming with joy.

Will Adams: Cheer abounds in “Lakalaka,” almost to a fault. The friendly guitars and thin kicks are given plenty of weight, as if the joy of the vocal arrangement and the giant drums weren’t enough already.

Jibril Yassin: A refreshing piece of contemporary meets traditional – the twangy guitars that come in to accentuate the vocal harmonies is pop songwriting done right. The vocals strike the sweet spot between bright and cloying yet some of the harmonies – especially over that pate drum break – certainly feel off-kilter but not on a level to threaten to ruin the mood set here.

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4 Responses to “Te Vaka – Lakalaka”

  1. “An Innocent Warrior” and the scene it soundtracks is the best Disney song/film scene combo since “Circle of Life” and this is objective fact. Got all teary-eyed when I saw that part in theaters… so beautiful. At the same time, 3D CGI animation really needs to stop existing or dramatically step up its game.

  2. My son knows every song from the Moana soundtrack. He asks for “An Innocent Warrior” by name! But it’s even better when the soundtrack starts up and his eyes go wide, and he says, “Daddy! It’s TULOU TAGALOA!!”

    Moana is definitely the best Disney movie in…what, 20 years?

  3. (No wait, I always forget “Lilo and Stitch” was Disney.)

  4. Thanks for sharing that Dave :’) I’m a huge sucker for Emperor’s New Groove but there’s certainly something to be said about how different Moana is from the typical Disney animated film. I remember being really surprised by how serious it was (or at least, how it didn’t have nearly as many jokes as their other films). It’s a sweet and beautiful movie, I’m glad your son likes it so much.