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History makers Pacific Underground celebrates twenty years

Pacific Underground

28 May 2013

History makers Pacific Underground celebrates twenty years of shows

New Zealand’s longest running Pasifika performing arts group
Pacific Underground marks its twentieth anniversary with a series of shows starting in Dunedin presenting “Island Summer” by Pos Mavaega at the Fortune Theatre on Saturday 8th June 2013.

Pos Mavaega and Tanya Muagututi’a are Pacific Underground’s longest remaining members - both back from performing in New Caledonia a month ago. They started straight into ‘Creative Connections’- a three-month artist-in-residence opportunity in Dunedin’s Broad Bay courtesy of the Caselberg Trust. The residency involves Pos and Tanya writing new music for slide guitar for the project “Island Summer- sounds of the bay” inspired by the music of the legendary Bill Sevesi.

“So far we’ve had such a warm welcome from the Trust and community here. The peaceful vibe out here is so different compared to where I live. This morning I woke up to a thin layer of snow.” says Mr Mavaega who moved from Christchurch to Auckland after the earthquakes.

Pacific Underground a Christchurch based organisation started out in 1993 as a new Pacific theatre group, its members hungry for work and the opportunity to share its stories on stage. It’s first main bill play ‘Fresh Off The Boat’ written by Simon Small and Oscar Kightley premiered at the University Free Theatre in November 1993. The cast included new actors Kightley and David Fane, a drama school graduate.

The organisation continued creating eight main-bill plays; twelve education plays, countless music shows, two CDs, and they produced their own Pacific Arts Festival in Christchurch for ten years from 2001 to 2010. They’ve received numerous nominations and awards and have toured extensively. As the organisation started out, one of their first projects was providing arts workshops for young people.

“Back then everyone worked hard in theatre, on the music gigs, and with the young people – all of us trying new things. Those young people are still involved in the arts and entertainment industries today. It’s an amazing legacy to hold. “ Mr Mavaega says.

He refers to the reputation of Pacific Underground as the training ground for people like Kightley, Fane, the Naked Samoans, Scribe, Ladi 6, Parks, Mark Vanilau and Dallas Tamaira of Fat Freddys Drop– before they had made their mark as New Zealand’s most respected entertainers.

“We weren’t thinking of longevity back then, mainly that the work had to stand up,” reflects Ms Muagututi’a. “Right now a young Wellington company -Jandals Inc. are touring “Romeo and Tusi” that was written by Erolia Ifopo [Pacific Underground co-founder] and Oscar. We had a blast touring that show so, seeing a new company with it, receiving great reviews means they are too, and the play has stood the test of time.” Says Ms Muagututi’a.

Muagututi’a acted in ‘Fresh Off The Boat’ in 1993 and simultaneously performed in the Pacific Underground band. “I’d finish up at the theatre, then run up to the Worcester Bar a few blocks away - Pos and the band already set up. Then the rest of the crew would join us. We were all mates with a shared purpose to create, gig, and have fun. Not much different to today really,” says Ms Muagututi’a.

Island Summer is a show of original and Island music arranged beautifully for guitar by Pos Mavaega and dedicated to his mother who suddenly passed away in 2001. The show has toured to Wellington, Christchurch, Palau, American Samoa and New Caledonia.

Also part of Dunedin’s Puaka Matariki Festival Island Summer features Pos Mavaega, Tanya Muagututi’a on vocals and features guest Dunedin musicians Hiliako Iaheto and Rangitakau Tekii of award winning reggae band ‘Koile. All four of them were performing in New Caledonia.

“Island Summer is one of our favourite shows. We’re so proud to perform it here in Dunedin, as a dedication to our parents, and also to the family here in Dunedin who have been a huge support to us and Pacific Underground over the past twenty years” says Mr Mavaega.

“…Hearing Mavaega play this guitar was a standout moment of the concert. Another was Muagututi'a offering a song about her grandmother who lived to be 100, titled Song for Grandma… proud, warm moments in time from another place that are equally at home in these chilly climes. “
- Vicki Anderson, The Press


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