Thank you to Disney Studios for hosting me during the Moana Event. All interview photos by Louise Bishop/Mom Start.
I first saw Opetaia Foa’i perform last year, during the animation presentation at D23 Expo. That was the moment I became officially Moana-obsessed. Now I’m glad to see the rest of the world becoming as obsessed as I am! Opetaia Foa’i is the founder of Te Vaka, known throughout the world as one of the most successful bands playing contemporary Pacific music. Now Opetaia and Te Vaka are part of the soundtrack of Moana.
What was it like to collaborate on the music of Moana?
It was awesome because we had a lot of time, so when we got together, we…he [Lin-Manuel Miranda] works very fast and I work very fast ,too. It was quite an amazing combination because you’ve got Mark [Mancina] who, of course, is very experienced along that line, and you’ve got Lin who’s very good with lyrics and his rapping. 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 I get bored with things very quickly, so we found that that combination worked really well. I’m very childish in the studio and luckily so was Lin and Mark, so we had a lot of fun together.
How did he update the music of his culture to work in the film?
I sort of trusted that Mark [Mancina] and the [team], I trusted that they would make those decisions. And I didn’t compromise from my cultural background either. I’ve got many things that didn’t get on to the Movie and yeah, a lot of things, they would gently say, “Opetaia, that was good, but we don’t want to scare the children.” So after awhile I got the message, because I’m very, very passionate about the chants of the olden pre-missionary Pacific, you know, who didn’t have melodies but just chants and beats and I love that.
Did he have a favorite part of the process of working on the film?
I was born in [Western] Samoa in a thatched hut…just the thatched hut with no walls, so to find myself here is an incredible journey… My jaws been open for quite some time… I call it a aesthetic Heaven, that people can be around the table and they can talk about anything they like and there’s no one running anybody down, it’s incredible. So all that’s new to me. In my culture, music is like breathing air. They can never understand why I was always trying to write songs or do something musically, so it was a hard journey for me to go get a real job….I think I can understand what Moana was going through.
Was there a song on the soundtrack that had particularly special meaning to him?
The first track that I wrote was “We Know the Way”, and I wrote that as soon as-in 2015 , on the flight back home-when John [Musker] and Ron [Clements] and Osnat [Shurer] were explaining what they wanted, and of course voyaging is my thing-I was so excited that I wrote that. And then we got together in Carmel with Lin and Mark. And Lin was sort…pacing up and down outside and getting all the lyrics together. Smoke coming out of his [ears]. And he come out with those beautiful lyrics and and just slaughtered it. And then we knew something was special about this.
What’s next for Opetaia?
I’m happy where I am now. Just to get here. I was trying to explain to you my journey, it 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, everywhere. And to be honest, I thought I’d reached the end of my run, and I was ready to, you could say, hang up my oars. And this opportunity came up. So it’s just extended it a little bit more.
What does he think of the movie?
The animation, the story, everything was just incredible. Well, I could say this,-I could say this endearingly-my ancestors would be proud of this Movie.
You can find the music of Moana, including demos, outtakes and more on the deluxe edition of the soundtrack, available now.
From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes Moana, a sweeping, CG-animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who sails out on a daring mission to save her people. During her journey, Moana (voice of Auli’i Cravalho) meets the once-mighty demigod Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), who guides her in her quest to become a master wayfinder. Together, they sail across the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way, Moana fulfills the ancient quest of her ancestors and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity. Directed by the renowned filmmaking team of Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Princess & the Frog) and produced by Osnat Shurer (Lifted, One Man Band), Moana is in theaters now.
You can find all things Moana here, including full event coverage, exclusive interviews and more!