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Album reveals ancient sounds of Tonga for the first time

Published: 4 April 2017
Pukepuke o' Tonga

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Tongan royal blessing makes music history.

Auckland-based dance and music group Pukepuke o’ Tonga made history on Saturday 8 April, when they performed New Zealand’s premiere of Lomipeau Aotearoa, an album based on the mythical poetry of the late Queen Sālote Tupou III, at Mangere Arts Centre.

With a history of faiva (performance), tradition and culture running through their veins, the group presented a medley of traditional songs and dances.

The ground-breaking album brings back the sounds and melodies of ancient Tonga and breathes new life into the late queen’s poetry. 

Preserving Tongan culture and heritage 

Known for her considerable mana, the queen’s 1920s writings were originally translated into music and dance by one of her music composers, Lapaha Punake Vili Pusiaki.

Sesilia Pusiaki, a descendant of the composer and leaders of Pukepuke o’ Tonga, explains the significance of the Lomipeau Aotearoa album.

“'Pukepuke o’ Tonga' translates as 'to hold onto' or 'to uphold' Tonga and focuses on preserving Tongan culture and heritage through dance and music," she says. 

“As descendants of Lapaha Punake Vili Pusiaki, receiving Lord Kalaniuvalu’s blessing to create Lomipeau Aotearoa is a dream come true for my family." 

“We’ve kept the songs and dances alive in our family for four generations, and this is the first time these historically significant songs have been professionally recorded and produced.”

Sharing Taonga Pasifika

Developed as part of Auckland Council’s Taonga Pasifika pilot project to create an archive of heritage Pacific music and dance, the album aims to share Pacific culture and knowledge and is part of the regional Pacific arts and culture programme.

Manukau Ward Councillor and Chair of the Community Development & Safety Committee Efeso Collins is looking forward to the event.

“It will be an exciting day of festivities as we invite Aucklanders of all cultures to journey back to ancient Tonga to experience their storytelling traditions," he says.

“To complete their journey from the original ‘blessing given’ to produce Lomipeau Aotearoa through to its launch, Pukepuke o’ Tonga will offer a kava to HRH Princess Mele Siuilikutapu Kalaniuvalu Fotofili, a guest of honour on the day, as well as present the album to symbolise 'kou lava e fatongia' (the job is now done).”

Gathering the Tongan community

The day-long event will see one of the biggest gatherings of Auckland’s Tongan community to celebrate the revival and preservation of traditional Tongan arts, culture and values. 

A traditional kava ceremony will start the celebrations, and will be followed by live performances, artist talks and a documentary film about the making of the album.

The Lomipeau Aotearoa album launch is part of a series of live events supporting the landmark exhibition, Volume:  Making Music in Aotearoa at the Auckland Museum until 21 May 2017.