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Samoana — the Jazz Fest inspired by a legend

The sweet sounds of jazz, in many of its fascinating forms, will be heard on Tutuila this weekend, as an extraordinary woman — with the help of her many island friends and fellow musicians — launches the first ever Samoana Jazz and Arts Festival tonight.


Peta Si’ulepa is a tiny woman — certainly tiny by Samoan standards — but she has a vision for her people that is truly expansive. That vision involves bringing the Samoas together with music both unique and traditional… the ultimate fusion of past, present and future abides in her world-view, the one which conceived the Samoana Art and Jazz Festival.


She told Samoa News that it began many years ago, when she was the resident singer at Le Godinet Restaurant in Apia, where she met a woman who would profoundly affect her life. The late Mavis Rivers was in Samoa for a family occasion, and Peta Si’ulepa heard her perform to a packed house. She said, “I had never in my life heard jazz performed live in that way and of course, when she sang Samoan songs in that way, with ease and style — she could swing — I was instantly hooked!”


Mavis gave Peta her first jazz charts, and issued her a challenge to perform those songs for her when she returned to Samoa. But fate stepped in, and Mavis passed away before she could ever return to her birthplace. Peta never got the opportunity to perform those songs for the iconic woman whose voice and style had changed her life.


Reflecting on that time, Peta said, “I decided there was something I could do. What I could do was to bring her memory home — for Samoa and the world to honor and recognize this gifted and highly talented jazz musician and her immense contribution to jazz music.”


It was her dream to bring Mavis home to Samoa, where she was born, and to American Samoa where she made a reputation as the singing mascot for the thousands of American soldiers stationed in Pago Pago during World War II.


Mavis Rivers is already well known in New Zealand as the top kiwi jazz singer and the Americans make claim to her because Mavis made her home in the States later in life; she died in Los Angeles following a performance there. She has been described by many of her peers as one of the world’s great female jazz singers, and has attracted an international following among jazz purists.  Frank Sinatra called her the “purest jazz voice” he had ever heard.


“The jazz festival,” says Peta “is the obvious way to recognize the legacy of Mavis Rivers whilst providing a platform to develop, support and enhance jazz music — a genre that is now embraced, performed, and loved by Samoans locally and world-wide.”


Peta began enthusiastically naming names… “Names like the late Willy Miller and son Harry Miller are examples of the growing tradition of Samoan jazz artists. The Grammy award winner and son of Mavis Rivers, Matt Catingub, and Auckland based Lance Su’a, Ernie Semu, Sydney based Max Stowers, London based Greg Heath, Tokyo based Elia Gaitau then there are those known to many of us — Tom Scanlan, Maua Miller, Latu Miller, Deacon Eves — these are names known in jazz circles with regional and international accomplishments — all of whom are Samoans… and I’m certain we are only just scratching the surface… there are those in Hawai’i and the US.”


The Samoana Jazz & Arts Festival was born out of this determination — “to highlight, showcase and grow our burgeoning talent, to create an international world-class festival event with a five year vision and to establish it as the premiere festival magnet of the Pacific. Most importantly, from my own personal perspective, Samoana links together the two Samoas under one brand — and it becomes a world-wide call to action — to all Samoans, to build our festival as a Legacy festival for now and future generations. What better way to drive economic development, tourism, education and industry through creativity, culture, music and the arts — in our own Samoan way.”


Peta is no stranger to Jazz Festivals, she has been to many, and participated in two as a performing artist herself — a local Jazz Fest in Apia in 2001 and one in 2010, organized by a NZ promoter. She said, “After participating in both festivals, I decided to organize one myself, based on a vision that I had carried for some time.”


That vision includes longevity and fusion; spanning time and distance, for making memories is what musicians do best. She wants this to be an annual event — “that will grow each year as we attract interest from musicians, audiences, sponsors and collaboration partners.”


“Samoana is a weekend to weekend festival that starts in Tutuila and finishes in Upolu. Within the next five years we envisage joining up all the Islands through a repertoire of programs and activities the gives the world a tourism offering — as a necklace of Samoan Islands.”


Samoana has three key platforms: (1) the Musicology Forum platform which we will launch at this inaugural festival — it links the history of Samoan music, composition and song, (2) Sounds of Samoana — is the call to action to Samoans to come home and perform on our stage and (3) New Generation — this is the focus on youth and emerging talent — so all of the elements are present in Samoana. “It is the past which informs the current and the future — the notion of reciprocity — to come home — to share and learn through each other’s gifting and to give back through service  — that is the spirit of Samoana.”




With the official opening at Sadie's by the Sea tonight (Friday night) live jazz-inspired grooves will begin and continue till 10pm. On Saturday, everyone will be able to experience the free performances at the Fagatogo Pavilion downtown from 10a.m. to 1p.m.


At 2pm, Sadie’s by the Sea will also host a big afternoon and evening concert with International and local groups — giving residents a full day and night of incredible live music.


Sunday afternoon from 1p.m. will be a relaxed afternoon at Tisa's Barefoot Bar, with local musicians playing guest spots alongside musical guests from Samoa, New Zealand and Australia into the evening.


Young Samoan Jazz Pianist Andrew Faleatua, now based in Sydney, will be a highlight as his band of Samoan musicians from New Zealand have blazed a trail across the International music scene, including Dylan Elise (drums) Junior Nansen (bass) – a hot rhythm section who have performed with many well known artists in the U.S. and around the globe.


The young musicians will visit the Community College at lunchtime on Friday, and perform at all venues during the weekend. While some venues are free, others have a small cost as noted:


Live music & official opening – Sadie’s by the Sea- Friday 6p.m.


Free Music in the Park (Fagatogo Pavilion) — Saturday – 10a.m -1p.m.


The Samoana Concert Series – Sadie’s by the Sea – Saturday – 2p.m.-10p.m. ($20)


Tisa's Beachside Sunday Jam – Tisa's Barefoot Bar – Sunday – 1p.m. -7p.m. ($10)