Warm Earth - New Zealand (www.tevaka.com)
Ki Mua is the second recording from Te Vaka, Opetaia Foa'i's New Zealand based Polynesian musical ensemble. Opetaia's clear, reedy vocal carries his simple, dramatic, often haunting melodies, songs fully able to stand alone, but rendered vivid and compelling by electro-acoustic guitar, playful log drum percussion, and lush chorus and chant backing. The gently rolling title track finds Opetaia's sinuous lead vocal line twinned with Alana Foa'i's accompanying vocal, the tune progressively gaining percussion, choral depth, and dramatic force. "Lua Afe" begins with galloping log drums and ebullient male chants, a precision performance replete with "oohs" and "ahhs," culminating in the whoops of an enthusiastic audience. "Pate Pate" is one of the more joyous songs on a generally upbeat recording, a playful flirting dance featuring the coy, slightly nasal lead vocal of Sulata Foa'i, a happy driving beat reminiscent of South African hilife, and trademark log drum percussion opening onto a spirited male chant; all these elements swirl dizzily around one another in the closing bars. "Vaka Atua" brings a quite different mood, a slow dirge for destroyed Polynesian cultures, opening and closing with ominous thunder, an elder's chant leading into spoken word with percussion, samples, and a bit of dissonance, a soundtrack for a brief, abstract, melancholy film.
"Pate Mo Tou Agaga" features Te Vaka's percussion, congas and logs of varying timbre, which seem almost vocal in their narrative expressiveness. "Kaleve" reveals a swinging, jazzy aspect of Te Vaka's infectious percussion section, supporting male and female chants in praise of coconut honey. The drums and logs careen with machine-gun rapidity in "Aue Kapaku," as a male chant starts in unison, rises a key, and accumulates female harmonies into a happy frenzy.
Ki Mua is such an enjoyable recording that I feel free to express a few small disappointments. Although the booklet provides English descriptions of the songs, I would have enjoyed translations of the printed Tokelauan lyrics; I am unlikely to find such in Tucson. And the high spirits of these songs makes me suspect I am missing something important: the full, live Te Vaka performance experience. - Jim Foley