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Mr. Cowboy is a real country boy — Samoan style

Sam Ah Chookoon with his partner Amelia

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The confidence and charisma that oozed from the flamboyant Mr. Cowboy as he strutted his stuff on stage and wooed the crowd with his deep country voice recently at the Gov. H. Rex Lee Auditorium, was just a front.

In fact, Sam Ah Chookoon aka Mr. Cowboy is a soft spoken, down-to-earth and humble guy who is not ashamed of his humble beginnings and is genuinely appreciative of the many privileges that come with fame.

In an exclusive interview with the 28 year-old Samoan country star, he spoke candidly about his family and upbringing at his home in Vaitoloa, which is less than five minutes by car from downtown Apia.

Sam Ah Chookoon is the fifth of eight children born to Lavala and To’afa Ah Chookoon and has three brothers and four sisters.

His father was a carpenter and his mother was a seamstress who plied her trade at home for her clients who were mostly people in their village.

 “I come from a very poor family,” he revealed. “We depended on the sea for our meals every day. Some nights when our parents had money, we would have meat for dinner. But it was mostly fish either eaten raw with coconut cream (oka) or cooked in a variety of ways and shellfish namely scallops (tugane and pipi), sea urchins (tuitui and vaga), sea cucumbers (sea and loli) and land crabs (kupa) and mangrove crabs (pa’a o le mago).

 “When I reminisce about my childhood, vivid memories of wading ankle-deep in the muddy shoreline at low tide looking for those shellfish after school every day so that we would have food on our table at night, would flash through my mind.”

He recalled that when his father came home from work every evening, he would go in his canoe to fish for their dinner.

 “Sometimes he would come back empty-handed but at least we had shellfish complimented by a can of herrings or apa elegi,” the successful country star recounted.

Before dinner after his evening fishing expeditions, his dad would strum his guitar and serenade his mother who would be busy sewing, with his favorite songs, which included Samoan classics by Penina o Tiafau, Tiama’a and Punialava’a among others, and country classics by Kenny Rogers, Tom Jones, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard among others.

 “Those are some of my treasured memories of my dad,” he reminisced. “I loved listening to him play and sing those country classics even though I didn’t understand the words, but I fell in love with country music.”

He was only 8 years old then, but the budding country star memorized the chords of every song and his interest in country music grew with his father’s encouragement.

Sam Ah Chookoon began his schooling at the Pesega Fou Infants School and finished his primary education at Lepea Primary School. He then took his secondary education at Pesega College or the Church College of Western Samoa (CCWS) as it was known back then.

 “I have never worked a normal paying job,” he stated. “It was only during my high school years at CCWS that I took advantage of our LDS church’s youth programs where we would mow the church compound at Pesega and maintain church facilities for some money to help my parents with my school fees.”

After school, he worked at his family’s plantation at Tanumalala and at the same time worked on perfecting his country musical aspirations.

His big break came in 2018 when he entered the annual musical competition Star Search hosted by TV1 and televised ‘live’ every Sunday night.

 “I was the only one singing country music and with my deep country voice, I stuck out like a sore thumb,” he remembered. “There were a lot of discouraging comments from some people who followed the competition about my style of singing especially my voice. Some said I sounded offkey, while others claimed that I used some kind of gadget connected to the microphone to make my voice sound deeper.

 “They had a screen installed just outside the TV studio where the competition was televised ‘live’ — where the contestants’ relatives and supporters would watch. My dad was the only out there cheering for me and he heard some of these comments but he told me to ignore them and to focus on perfecting my country style.”

Mr. Cowboy remembers vividly the evening that he was eliminated from the competition.

 “My dad had an old bomb back then which he used to take me to the TV studio where the competition was held every Sunday evening,” he recalled. “And the evening I was eliminated, we rode in silence and I felt very sorry for him. I felt embarrassed that I had failed and let my dad down, and I vowed never to sing publicly again. But my dad advised me to pursue my talent.”

Even though he did not win the contest, he got his first plane ride and visited New Zealand for the first time when organizers of the competition paid for all ten finalists to visit and perform at the Land of the Long White Cloud.

 “It was quite a milestone for me because suddenly, there I was on a plane on my way to New Zealand for the first time in my life! All because of music!” he reminisced. “From that moment, I realized that I could actually go places and improve my life situation with music. So I decided to focus on my music.”

With much needed exposure in Samoa and New Zealand, Mr. Cowboy started to record his music and shared it on social media.

He started recording his songs and his Samoan song “Fufulu Ulo” which he recorded at Dr. Rome Productions made it to number one and stayed there for three weeks! From there, things started happening fast for him and his status as a Star Search amateur contestant changed to that of a household name Country star!

By 2019, that musical status became international with appearances all over New Zealand and in October that same year, he made an appearance with guitarist Josh Mase on Radio 2GB show in New South Wales hosted by Australian number one radio host Ray Hadley.

While there, Sam with instrumental accompaniment by Josh, did a cover of the song “Grandpa” which was originally recorded by The Judds.

Ray Hadley, who flew Mr. Cowboy over to appear on his show, was blown away by his performance and he predicted bigger things for him in the future.

 “You know what, in a few years from now, I’m gonna say, that young bloke played on my program before anything else happened,” Hadley prophesied. “That was brilliant and you know what, I didn’t know what to expect and I’m overwhelmed by your talent.”

In December 2019, Mr. Cowboy appeared in the Step Up for Samoa benefit concert in Flaxmere, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand to raise funds to help families in Samoa affected by the measles outbreak.

In 2020, he became one of the first Polynesian artists to perform at the prestigious Tamworth Country Music Festival, New South Wales, the second largest annual country music festival in the world.

He was an instant hit with the Australian country music fans when they heard his deep bass baritone voice and the classic country songs he sang sometimes with a twist of Samoan.

 “His voice is enough to blow a 10-gallon hat away!” said one headline. “There’s no need to understand the language he’s singing in to get the quality of Mr. Cowboy,” said another.

By December that year, he had already attracted millions of views online and thousands of followers across the world with his music.

Along with his former music teacher at Pesega College, Uili Lafaele Junior, they set up a recording studio in Samoa to work with aspiring local artists.

Everything seemed to be going well for him, then his dad who had been bedridden for some time passed away.

 “It was the saddest day of my life,” he revealed. “The one person who introduced me to country music, encouraged and nurtured my talent until I got to where I am, had completed his earthly journey. I thank God for my father.

“I guess he was the vessel that got me to realize my God-given talent and I find solace in the fact that all his hard work has began to bear fruit and that he had witnessed it before he passed.”

He was referring to not only his music career but also the monetary benefits he has reaped from his many appearances and recording copyrights.

At 28 years of age, the once unemployed high school graduate who became a full time banana farmer has renovated his family home and built new additions to it, and has bought his mother a brand new car.

Mr. Cowboy who dresses like a rapper and sometimes has his brown locks braided is not afraid to get his hands dirty, and divides his time working at his banana plantation and making sure his herd of cows, which is slowly growing, are fed and watered on weekdays.

The Samoan country star currently lives with his partner Amelia and their 6 year-old twin boys Austin and Jevan at Vaigaga.

 “My boys are my life,” he said. “I always try to make time to spend quality time with them and be a part of their lives.

“Growing up in a low income family, I want to give them everything I missed out on when I was growing up but I also want to instill in them the importance of love for your family because that is what makes the bonds stronger.

 “With the success I have right now, I always remember what my father told me.

“He said, stay humble and honor God and He will raise you up.

“Thanks to God I am staying in a hotel, swimming in a swimming pool and eating all these nice food!

“I also hope my story will inspire other young people to follow their dreams no matter what obstacles may come in the way.”

In December last year, Mr. Cowboy recorded a lively cover of the Beatles song "Ob la di, Ob la da" with the music video filmed at a friend's plantation in Poutasi, Falealili, showing him singing while using a rake for a microphone as his friends sang along with him strumming machetes and picks like guitars, with one banging away at a variety of pots and containers used as a makeshift drum set.

The video reflected Samoan style living on a farm, showing joy and brotherhood despite being out in the plantation. With well over a million views and climbing, Mr. Cowboy's latest release has been trending at number one since its release on December 15, 2022 on the official channel of the record label. The video was reported on New Zealand's TV1 News which is aired every evening at 7pm on the various TV stations in Samoa and secured 20.5K likes on You Tube in the three weeks since it was released in which it topped the NZ music charts.

While Mr. Cowboy has ticked many items from his bucket list after achieving them, he still has a few to go, including a visit to the capital of country music in Nashville, Tennessee.

Unconfirmed reports from sources reveal plans to work with country superstar Billy Ray Cyrus in Nashville next year.

 “An opportunity to visit Nashville to me, will be like a pilgrimage!” said Mr. Cowboy.