It is an honour for me to share thoughts from a friend, a Pacific brother, a fellow poet; Daren Kamali. Earlier this year I had blogged about his first book Tales, Poems and Songs from the Underwater World which is also accompanied with a CD of his poems and songs (for the link click HERE). Now I am very proud to congratulate Daren Kamali on becoming the recipient of the 2012 Fulbright-Creative New Zealand Pacific Writer’s Residency! This residency offers a New Zealand writer of Pacific heritage the opportunity to work for three months on a creative writing project exploring Pacific identity, culture or history, at the University of Hawai’i.
Daren Kamali is of Fijian and Wallis and Futuna descent. Born and raised in Fiji, he migrated to New Zealand at the age of 17 years. He is a poet, author and music artist, the co-founder of the South Auckland Poets Collective and Niu Navigations Company. Recently Daren represented New Zealand at the 2012 Brave New Voices Festival in San Francisco, the 7th Annual Spoken Word and Hip-Hop Educator and Community Leader Training Institute in Wisconsin and the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts in Solomon Islands. He is a busy man!
I am fortunate to have Daren lend some of his time to answer some questions before he departs to Hawaii this Saturday (MP = Maryanne Pale and DK = Daren Kamali).
MP: You are a seasoned Poet with a background of local, national and international performances which is amazing! Please take us back to your first memory of writing poetry. How did it all start for you?
DK: It all started in 1998 when I met Rev Mua Strickson Pua aka Rev MC and enrolled in a Training Opportunity Programme through WINZ at Tagata Pasifika Resource Development Trust on Kharangahape Road. It was a Community and Social Work course but heavily based around Arts, Poetry and Music. We were known as ‘Tour Toa 98’ and performed at schools, street corners in Auckland City, festivals and even at prisons.
MP: Wow! That is awesome! I met Rev Mua Stickson Pua at the beginning of this year. He is such a passionate man. Over the years, who are the people that have inspired you the most and why?
DK: There have been a lot of people that have encouraged and inspired me in my life. First and foremost my mother Elizabeth Kamali, she has been my mother and father in life, she is a great singer and guitarist so I grew up surrounded by music and love. Then there are my family and friends in Fiji and NZ who show their continuous support, love and prayers. I have mentors like Mua Strickson Pua, Polynation Poets, Albert Wendt, Robert Sullivan, Witi Ihimaera, John Pule and tutors at Manukau Institute of Technology. My peers; the South Auckland Poets Colletive, Grace Taylor, Naked Voices of Pacific Literature from Manukau Institute of Technology, Killa Kokonut Krew, and many many musicians, artists, poets etc in NZ and internationally. I am grateful to one and all.
MP: Amazing! So you are of Fijian, Wallis and Futuna descent, how has your cultural heritage influenced your writing of poems, songs and short stories?
DK: I am proud of my Wallis et Futuna background, although I haven’t been there I have heard many great talanoas over the kava bowl with my grandfather before I came to NZ in 1992. My great grandparents eloped to Levuka, Fiji in the early 1900s as they were from a different hierarchy in Wallis et Futuna, my great grandfather was a commoner and my great grandmother was the chiefs daughter. That’s how we come to be in Fiji. I incorporate snippets of those talanoa with my grand dad and family into my writings and performances. I am also proud to be a Fijian and continually give thanks to Fiji for giving me and my family a place to build our new home. I treasure my Fijian roots and it shows in my book as I have translated all my writings into Fijian and also use the language in my performances.
MP: That is truly moving. Speaking of family, how has your role of being a Father influenced your writing of songs, poems and short-stories?
DK: As a father, everything in my life is secondary to my two sons, even before my creativity but in saying that, being a father has definitely inspired and encouraged me to step up in my game in terms of creating innovative Pacific works whether it be written, spoken or sung, also building networks both national and internationally, complete my Bachelor of Creative Writing at MIT, travel, facilitate and mentor young writers/performers and build our charitable company ‘Niu Navigations’ with fiancee Grace Taylor. Fatherhood has helped me focus on my dreams becoming reality so I can build a good future for me and my family.
MP: That is encouraging to hear! You and Grace make such an inspirational couple! Please explain some of the pivotal work that you and Grace are engaged in.
DK: Grace and I met through Poetry five years ago doing workshops at community centers around Auckland which led us to create the ‘South Auckland Poets Collective’ in 2007 with help from CNZ and Youthline. Grace and I are in the process of officially launching our charitable company ‘Niu Navigations’ with our vision to navigate pacific voices through poetry (written and spoken) both on a national and international level. We have worked on our concept, vision, mission and values, also researching ideas and spoken to business mentors and advisers for the last three years and finally decided on a charitable company. Of course we’ve had a lot of debates along the way but it was all for the betterment of our step up to the next level as leaders of the ‘Word Movement’ in our community.
MP: Wow! There is definitely a lot to look forward to. Congratulations once again on becoming the recipient of the 2012 Fulbright-Creative NZ writer’s residency. What does this award mean to you?
DK: Receiving this award is an honor and a great personal achievement for me as a writer of Pacific poetry and stories. I am proud to be able to follow in the footsteps of amazing recipients gone before me like Tusiata Avia, Toa Fraser, Makerita and Sima Urale. This Hawaiian residency has been a major goal of mine for a long time. This is my third application in five years. I’m stoked to be this year’s recipient and I aim to make the most of this opportunity to utilize the largest Center of Pacific Island Studies at UH, Manoa and also connect with other prominent writers, editors, publishers etc in order to create and complete a body of work for my second book ‘Squid Out of Water’. I want this book to be recognized and respected as pacific literature not only in the Pacific but internationally.
Here is a video link to a spoken word poetry performance by Daren Kamali entitled “Journey”. Enjoy!
MP: When readers pick up your book and/or listen to your CD and/or watch you perform poetry, what would you like them to take away with them?
DK: Firstly I would like them to enjoy reading and listening. Secondly, I would like them to feel what I feel and make connections to their homelands whether it be the islands or other countries where their ancestors originally come from. I am unique as a Pacific Performance Poet on an international stage. I am proud to take our stories of the Pacific through poetry to the world as that was always my main aim since I first started fifteen years ago. I love the Pacific culture, language and people so it’s only right for me to be an ambassador for my people internationally.
MP: For readers who are interested in performance poetry, publishing a collection of poetry and/or recording poetry and songs, what would your advice be?
DK: Being passionate for poetry will have to be the first ingredient and maybe one won’t be naturally gifted but it is possible to learn and practice to perfect the art of writing on page then taking it to the stage or vice versa.It’s about keeping at it and never giving up.
It is not easy to get published these days hence the reason for South Auckland Poets Collective and myself doing our own thing by self publishing our works. I have survived the arts industry on Creative NZ grants and as a freelance teacher artist. Of course you may not get all the grants you apply for or the same amount you ask for but you must continue to apply and re apply.Whatever amount you do get the next step is to show your funders how far you can stretch it.
I got $4200 from CNZ to complete my first book which is not much at all but because I built up a body of works, ideas, networks etc over the fifteen years, it helped me call upon great artists at mates (koha) rates for illustrations, translations, editors and recording studios to create, complete and launch ‘Tales, Poems and Songs from the Underwater World’ along with 120 copies before I was sponsored for a further 500 copies through Pacific Education Center. In other words you will have to get out of your garage, your home and go meet people that would help and never take no as an answer, keep knocking, keep applying, keep bothering people in the right places and in the end they’ll get fed up and give you something just to shut you up..haha. I hope this all makes sense.
DK: Thank you very much for having me on your blog! All the best and loloma levu..DK
Click HERE for the link to the story on the 2012 Pacific Festival in which Daren Kamali had attended to represent New Zealand.
For more info on Daren Kamali visit his website: www.darenkamali.com