Andrew Faleatua is of both Samoan and European descent and comes from a family of 10 children. In New Zealand, Andrew completed a Bachelor of Music (2011), attained First Class Honours in Jazz Performance (2012) and completed a Master of Music with First Class Honours in Jazz Performance (2014) all at The University of Auckland. He went on to lead a number of jazz bands at venues around Auckland such as CJC (Creative Jazz Club), the Auckland Jazz and Blues Club, Lewis Eady and more.
Andrew Faleatua composed music for the cinema release of ‘Three Wise Cousins’ at the beginning of this year. At present, he is undertaking a PhD in composition/cultural studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, The University of Sydney, on the Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) and the Anne Reid Memorial Trust Scholarship. Here he is fusing musical elements from his Pacific heritage with jazz to create something fresh and exciting. This, for him, constitutes a means of cultural identity expression as an “afakasi” – having one foot in the world of jazz and the other in a rich Samoan heritage. His vision is to lecture, help young Pacific people thrive in music at university and, through his Pacific jazz sound, demonstrate how Pacific traditions can afford uniqueness and power to one’s own contemporary sound irrespective of genre. It is this vision that propels Andrew Faleatua through his PhD studies and musical performance life abroad.
In 2015, Andrew Faleatua’s composition ‘Samoa Forever’ was a finalist for APRA best pacific song at the New Zealand Pacific Music Awards. At the end of 2014, he was the headline act at the inaugural Samoana Jazz Festival in American Samoa. He also supported Iva Lankum who headlined at the Samoana Jazz Festival in Apia, Samoa.
In early February 2016, I had a talanoa session with Andrew Faleatua which took place in a café at Central Park in Sydney, Australia and I came away feeling inspired and empowered by the words and experiences that he shared. I am honoured and grateful to be able to feature him on this blog as a special guest. Enjoy the read! (MP = Maryanne Pale)
MP: Please share your thoughts on jazz music and what it means to you.
ANDREW: There will be different definitions and interpretations of what jazz music about; however, for me personally, jazz is a vehicle for expression. I believe that improvisation is at the heart of jazz. For example, in an ensemble, jazz can be likened to a group conversation where everyone listens to each other and communicates in their own unique way. Similarly, musicians engage with each other thus producing a unique blend of music.
MP: I like your personal take on jazz music. So who were the people in your life who inspired you to get into Jazz music and why?
ANDREW: You know when you’re young and you have people that you look up to? Well for me, there’s a guy called Toma Amosa, he is a NZ artist and he works alongside David Dallas. Actually, the Amosa family are all talented. Back in the day Toma played the piano and he was good at it. I looked up to him as I was growing up and I used to look at him and think ‘this guy is mad’. At the time I was learning classical piano – I was probably about 13 or 14 years of age. Back then, he used to come over home and improvise on the piano and I remember watching him in awe and thinking ‘I want to be like to this guy’. So I used to be a little bit naughty and outside of classical piano, I would try and learn how to improvise on church chords etc. I think from there it was kind of a natural progression into jazz because jazz includes a lot of improvisation. So over the years, I played classical piano and on the side I played in church which I think was an obligatory role as a Pastor’s son lol! It was at church that I would keep improvising. I think for me, Toma was the main influence – that’s how much I looked up to him as a youngster.
MP: So have you had the chance to tell Toma all this?
ANDREW: He will know now once he reads our talanoa lol!
MP: Lol! That’s pretty awesome! I am sure that Toma will be stoked. So how did you progress from there?
ANDREW: Well, when I arrived at The University of Auckland, I actually started a maths course. I was doing alright in the first year but I found that I was really passionate about music. So I decided to pursue my passion and I made the shift from the maths course over to a music course which led me to the jazz course. Learning how to play classical piano and being influenced at a young age to explore improvisation, by the likes of Toma Amosa and his family, I believe that’s what led me to enjoy jazz music.
MP: I am glad that you made the decision to shift from the maths course to the music course. It’s inspiring that you made the call to pursue what you are passionate in. At the time you were exploring improvisation, would you say that it was something that you would consider to be inherent?
ANDREW: I think so. It must have been natural because I can’t think of any other reason as to why improvisation resonated with me – it became a part of me. Actually, my Dad would always improvise on the guitar and he had done that since my siblings and I were babies. I remember when we would have family time and together we would sing. My Dad used to solo here and there and improvise on the guitar. That could be a contributing factor as to why I think that improvisation for me is inherent.
MP: Love it! So improvisation runs in your genes! That’s awesome. What keeps you motivated each day?
ANDREW: Lol! Yeah you are probably right! What keeps me motivated each day… Passion itself! I have a passion for music and I have a passion for creating something unique or creating something different. Leaving my unique stamp on the world – that’s what motivates me. Saying something that someone else hasn’t said before… something about that in particular motivates me to do what I do.
Also, knowing that I will have a family of my own one day motivates me and so Rachel is a huge inspiration in my life as well. I feel that walking alongside her, we have clear dreams and goals. Pursuing those things together is a really exciting thing. In the mornings and afternoons we would talk about how we are going with each of our careers and together we push each other as we pursue our goals. Also, thinking about the future, I know that I need a career that will help me to support my family – that’s another motivation.
MP: Inspiring indeed! Also, it’s great to hear that your wife supports you, works alongside you and together you guys make a great team.
ANDREW: Yeah, she’s a huge source of inspiration for me. Another thing that motivates me each day is drawing from traditional Samoan music and trying to represent it in a way that is appealing to younger generations. For example, a part of my study is the sharing of cultural knowledge through sounds that draw attention. I want to present traditional Samoan music to the younger generation. I want them to know that you can learn a lot from your heritage and have confidence in knowing your identity and knowing who you are. I would like to instill confidence in the younger generation and say ‘this is who you are and this is the line that you hail from’. I believe that when they become aware of that, they will then be able to navigate their way through life and carry their identity with that extra bit of confidence in who they are. So a lot of my work within my PhD includes consulting with traditional elders. I continue to ask the traditional elders ‘how can I respectfully draw from our traditions’.
MP: Yes, there is an importance in upholding the respect with our traditional elders. So what you are doing is great and I am sure that they appreciate your consultation process.
ANDREW: Thank you. I also incorporate the same consultation process with others whom I am privileged to work with. For example, more recently I have been working with Maryjane and Fred from Matavai Cultural Arts. I am creating music pieces for traditional dance i.e. slap dance and as part of the process, I consult them on finding respectful ways of incorporating Western elements of music with our traditional Samoan culture, and presenting it to the younger generation so that they can build confidence upon knowing where they come from. So that’s a huge motivation for me.
MP: The collaboration sounds really exciting!
ANDREW: Yeah I am excited. It will be something new for me. I wanted to first serve in the community here in Australia to show that I am trustworthy and that I have good intentions. So for 2016, the collaboration with Matavai Cultural Arts will be one of the projects that I will be working with and I am looking forward to the outcomes. I want it to be something new and different. I am hoping for the end product to be filmed and televised.
MP: That is fantastic! I love Matavai Cultural Arts and I look forward to it seeing how everything falls into place. So what else do you have lined up for 2016?
ANDREW: It will be an extremely busy year for me. I plan to have 3 album releases this year…
MP: Wait… 3 album releases this year?
ANDREW: Lol! Yeah, the first album is the soundtrack for Three Wise Cousins.
MP: Oh yes! I remember that studio session with the team and you guys have been working on it over the past few months. It will be a great soundtrack and I am looking forward to watching the movie.
ANDREW: Yeah that’s the one! You have to see the movie – it’s hilarious lol! The second album is tied to my PhD which involves producing a composition portfolio. I have conducted interviews to support my PhD work which outlines the process of composition. Basically it incorporates the traditional elements that I spoke of earlier. It will have a mix of traditional and contemporary music in different forms. Like some of them will have classical piano and some of them will have Hip Hop and R&B, and spoken word. All these contemporary mediums of music are infused with traditional music which is a product of my consultation process with the traditional Samoan elders. As I mentioned earlier, I sought their advice on how traditional elements of music is produced and performed which is one of the outcomes of my research.
MP: I like how the composition of music and the production of an album will be among the outcomes of your PhD work. You have demonstrated your love and respect for your Samoan culture by consulting with the traditional Samoan elders and including traditional elements of music into your album. So, what will the third album be about?
ANDREW: Thank you. The third album is more of a personal venture. People will need to watch this space. There is more to come lol!
MP: Lol! So all 3 albums are going to be released this year?
ANDREW: That’s the plan lol!
MP: Wow, that is a lot of hard work! How do you feel about it all?
ANDREW: I am thrilled but I know that it will come with its challenges. The only reason why I think I can do it is that with my experience in composing music for the movie Three Wise Cousins, I learned how to produce relatively quickly. I also have a few producers that I work with and I have a great team around me.
MP: Having a great team around you is pertinent particularly when delivering on competing deadlines. You are very determined and I am confident that all will go well. So 5 years ago, is this where you had envisioned yourself to be?
ANDREW: An honest answer – no lol! It’s funny actually. You know, as you are growing up people will ask you ‘what do you want to be when you get older?’ and you tell them about your dreams and aspirations. Well, what I have found is that as you gain new experiences your pathway may change and sometimes it happens unexpectedly. For example, as a jazz artist/pianist, I am now composing music for film and this is a new aspect of my journey. For the movie ‘Three Wise Cousins’ some of the musical compositions make up about 60 parts, similar to that of an orchestra. So I am a composer and I want to write across different sectors of society including writing for community engagement projects. 5 years ago, I didn’t imagine being as passionate and interested in music composition or music performance in a way that I am engaged with it now. Music composition, music production and generating theory through my PhD work – all of this has evolved into something far greater that I could have imagined.
MP: Wow. I see where you are coming from. You mentioned your PhD work. Tell me more about how it ties in with your musical composition and production.
ANDREW: Well, I am learning and writing about Pacific traditions for my PhD thesis which I view as a direct output so to speak. In other words, I am able to present the ideas that I have, in the form of a PhD thesis. Within two disciplines, academia and music performance, they intertwine which enables me to transform what I have learned and what I know into an output which an audience can read, see or hear. There is a synergy that I believe exists within theory, musical composition and production.
MP: I see… Speaking of synergy, I have seen a music video of a song which you and your group of musicians performed at the Samoana Jazz Music Festival a couple of years ago. What was that experience like for you?
ANDREW: Oh yeah! My experience in Samoa was a good one, particularly in the Samoana Jazz Music Festival. We performed about 10 gigs that year for Samoana Jazz Festival and it was over 12 days. The people who came to see us were really nice and they were supportive of what I do. I found working in Samoa really interesting because a lot of my work, as you know, incorporates traditional Samoan elements. I found that the when the locals heard my music compositions, they got it straight away. For example, at the end of a performance locals told us that they have never heard of the type of music that we performed but they could hear the spirit of the song, the rhythms and traditional elements that were familiar to them. We had some of the elders come up to us crying as well and their feedback was about how proud they were to see young people willing to go back (in history) to find the beauty in our traditions and present it today in a way that youth can relate to.
MP: It must have been empowering for you to be able to receive that feedback especially coming from the elders.
ANDREW: Yeah I was so stoked to be able to hear that from them. That was huge for me because I am still learning about the traditional Samoan music and I want the younger generation to learn about it as well.
ANDREW: There is this Samoan proverb that I want to share and it goes: “E leai lava se faiva e asa ma le mau mau”. Basically what it means is that “No fishing expedition ever goes to waste”. So a fisherman that goes out on an expedition and even if he doesn’t catch what he wants, he will learn something. For example, he may learn about the patterns of the tides. So, despite having a good or bad experience, there is something that you can learn from it or take away from that experience. For the younger generation, I want them to know that they are never going to waste anything if they are pursuing your goals or dreams. Whether or not they may be hitting the mark, I want them to know that they are going to learn something from that experience in the long run. So the proverb is referring to a skilled fisherman, someone who knows the ins and outs. So, as I said before, even when the skilled fisherman doesn’t catch his full catch for the day – he will always learn something.
MP: That’s a great proverb! How about yourself? Was there a time that you felt like you were not hitting the mark?
ANDREW: Yeah! I remember when I first started Uni, I had to audition and I was asked to perform a solo and I asked “What’s a solo?” lol! I improvised for them and I was accepted into the jazz course. At that time, I was in stage 1 with all the cats that had previously studied jazz and I felt like I was way behind in terms of music knowledge and performance in comparison to them. I felt as though I was disadvantaged and that was a period of my life which I found difficult. I was attending class and I was trying to keep up with everyone, particularly when it came to improv demonstrations. I kept trying. I worked hard. I would go home and put extra hours in. It was challenging.
I had to keep reminding myself that I can do it and I had a positive attitude despite having to struggle through the course. I feel that it is in those moments of weakness that you have a choice to either work hard and speak positively which is really important, or just sit back and complain about it which I have found doesn’t work out in the end. Eventually by the end of my degree I was awarded by The University of Auckland as the “Graduate Scholar”. In other words, I received the award as the top academic of my year. From these experiences, I believe that there is no substitute for hard work.
MP: Wow! Your hard work definitely paid off!
ANDREW: Yeah but it wasn’t easy. I believe that if you’re passionate about something, even if you’re not the greatest, and you keep positive vibes around you, go for it and work hard! Before you know it, you will achieve your goals and you dreams will become a reality.
MP: That’s definitely inspiring. Well done on all your hard work. You continue to excel. What is a piece of advice that someone in your life has shared with you which has influenced your journey?
ANDREW: My Father, who is a church minister, is someone inspirational in my life who continues to speak into my journey even up to this very day. He has this saying which has empowered me over the years and it goes, “If you want to slay a Goliath, hang around the David’s”. And what this means is that everyone has a Goliath in their life e.g. challenges, but there are people who have slayed a Goliath before, so his advice is to hang around those people. Those people are the ones who will inspire you and give you the resources that you need. Hanging around the right people will have positive impact on your life. My Father’s advice has influenced me greatly. Relocating from New Zealand to Sydney, my Father’s advice still remains with me to this day. I have found the right people to work alongside, to learn from and to be inspired by.
MP: That’s powerful indeed! Final question, is there anything else that you would like to share?
ANDREW: Yes, I would like to pass on my Father’s advice to the younger generation. Work hard, dream big, and hang around the right people who are going to inspire you and not bring you down. Connect with people who are going to give you knowledge and wisdom that will help you slay your Goliath. We all need people around us to help us grow and learn.
MP: Thank you Andrew for sharing your Father’s advice and for addressing the youth and sharing it with them too. I understand that you are extremely busy so I appreciate your time that you have put aside for this talanoa session. Wishing you all the very best for 2016. I look forward to listening to the albums and seeing more of your projects unfold as this year progresses. Keep up the amazing work that you do!
ANDREW: It was my pleasure. Thank you for the invitation to share my experiences through talanoa. Best wishes to you also this year. Blessings.
To connect with Andrew Faleatua, please click on the following links:
The Three Wise Cousins soundtrack is now available online as digital download at: