While in Los Angeles for the Moana Red Carpet Premiere, we had the opportunity to meet and interview on of the collaborators of the soundtrack, Opetaia Foa’i. As a founding member of Te Vaka – a contemporary Pacific Music band – he was sought after to help create the music of Moana. It was quite an honor to meet Opetaia Foa’i and hear how much of an influence he had on Moana.
Opetaia Foa’i describes it as an “Alice in Wonderland wonderful job” – to be collaborating on a major motion picture soundtrack with Tony-award winning lyricist, Lin Manuel Miranda and Grammy-award winning composer Mark Mancina (The Lion King & Tarzan). And it couldn’t have happened to a more humble guy.
Producer Osnat Shurer and Directors John Clements and Ron Musker hand picked Foa’i to bring the sounds of the Pacific to life for Moana. As a founding member of Te Vaka, he has written over 8 albums. Once they heard his music, they knew it was the sound they wanted.
How did you decide how to mix some of the culture into the music, yet still give it a more modern feel?
I trusted that Mark would make those decisions. And I didn’t compromise from my cultural background either. I had many things that didn’t get into the movie – they would dutily say, Opetaia, that was good but we don’t want to scare the children. I’m very, very passionate about the chants of the pre-Missionary Pacific, who didn’t have melodies but just chants and beats and I love that.
In my culture, music is like breathing air. My journey was really to promote my culture. I’ve traveled the world and people got sick of me talking about these people that are the best Navigators, best Sailors in the world. And to be honest, I thought I’d reached the end of my run, I was ready to hang up my horse And then this opportunity came up. So it’s just extended it a little bit more.
What were some of those key elements you keep referring to in the music?
Chants, lots of drums, and telling of the stories of ancient Polynesia. Those are the 3 elements that I always push. And if you’ve seen the Movie, you get a lot of “Mmmm”, alot of chants. And you hear a lot of drums & percussions – all those key things.
How much time did you spend working and collaborating with Lin-Manuel Miranda to create some of the songs together?
It was awesome because we had a lot of time. He works very fast and I work very fast too. And it was quite an amazing combination cause you’ve got Mark (Mancina) who is very experienced along that line and you’ve got Lin who’s very good with lyrics and directing. And there’s me who, I don’t read music but I do write from emotion.
I can grab a scene and I can get emotion out of it very quickly and so we found that that combination worked really well. I’m very childish in the Studio and luckily so was Lin and so we had a lot of fun together.
What’s song had the most meaning to you that made it on the Soundtrack?
The first track that I wrote was “We Know the Way”. I wrote that as soon as John and Ron explained what they wanted and of course voyaging is my thing. And then we got together with Lin and Mark and we were pacing up and down and getting all the lyrics together. Smoke coming out of us. And they come out with those beautiful lyrics and just slaughtered it.
What were your thoughts when you saw it put together with the Music and the story? Did they capture the culture?
Beautiful. The animation, the story, everything was just incredible. I could say this daringly. My ancestors would be proud of this Movie.
The journey that I made coming from a village to this big city, my roots were firmly entrenched, so there was no way you could shake it. So as much as I want other cultures to be really interested in what the culture (in Moana) is all about, the biggest buzz for me is for my own people. Because a lot of them were brought up in the cities, so I’m hoping that this will open the key for them to feel pride about their culture.
Before the start of Moana at the Premiere, we had the great privilege of hearing Opetaia Foa’i and his band Te Vaka perform We Know the Way. The female vocalist at the beginning is his daughter, Olivia. Isn’t her voice just enchanting?
Moana is the perfect Holiday Movie to see! How many times will you see it?
Other Articles from the Moana, The BFG Blu-ray Event, ABC TV Event & Stuck in the Middle Event you may enjoy:
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Walk the Moana Red Carpet with Me
She’s Not a Princess Mom, She’s a Hero!
Exclusive Interview with Moana’s Maui, The Rock
That Time I Met Musical Genius Lin-Manuel Miranda
Exclusive Interview with Moana’s Auli’i Carvalho
A Conversation with the Cast of Disney Channel’s Stuck in the Middle
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The BFG Blu-Ray: A Perfect Holiday Gift
Behind the Scenes on the Set of Speechless
A Conversation with The BFG Roald Dahl’s Daughter, Lucy Dahl
Behind the Scenes on the Set of ABC’s Dr. Ken
Nicole Scherzinger Had To Play the Role of Moana’s Mother
6 Fun Facts About Moana from Directors Ron Musker & John Clements
Disclaimer: Disney sent me to Los Angeles on an all-expenses paid press trip, in exchange for my coverage of the red carpet premiere of Moana. All opinions are my own.