In our Meet the Board series we invite you to sit down and learn more about each SOUNZ board member. Today we introduce Co-Chair | Toihau Matarua Noma Sio-Faiumu.
Give a brief introduction about yourself.
When I was two years old, my family migrated from the plantations of our beautiful island of Sāmoa, where I was born, to New Zealand in pursuit of the whole milk and honey dream.
My parents worked hard and became the vehicle by which many families, who lived back in the islands, were also able to migrate over for the opportunity for employment and to educate their children here in New Zealand.
For many years, every room of our three-bedroom Ōtara home was a thoroughfare of activity, filled with people from our family and village in transition. One of the many part-time jobs our father held was to clean the Criterion and the Star Hotels in Ōtāhuhu. As young children, we would accompany our parents after the bars had closed to help.
At that time, I don’t think that my parents ever imagined the music and arts industry as a viable career pathway for any of their children, but I have been blessed for it to have been mine for the past 30 plus years, working across the social spectrum on music and arts-focused projects which connect and celebrate our unique communities, and I’ve also had the pleasure of performing on some of the very stages that I’ve helped my parents clean.
What do you do outside of your work at SOUNZ?
Primarily, my husband and I are directors of our own company 37 Hz, a digital creative production agency with integrated music, sound, video and arts programmes. We maintain a balance of in-house independent projects and external collaborations with other organisations in both the private and community sectors in order to create kaupapa driven projects which align with our own values and mission.
In addition to supporting with the care of my active elderly Dad, I also have a number of functions which I perform, often on a voluntary basis in the community, from advocacy to consultancy, including the opportunity to co-lead the Auckland Arts Festival Whānui programme for the past four years.
What is one of your earliest musical memories?
My earliest memory of music was on Christmas Eve when I was about nine years old. Our father, who at the time was the sole income provider for our family, fell critically ill and he was unable to work for a few years. My uncle, who was based in Sāmoa and had been instrumental in our migration to New Zealand, had organised for our Dad’s return home to Sāmoa to explore Sāmoan medicine.
His departure left our mother to enter the workforce as the sole income provider for her first time here in NZ. It was a confusing and stressful time, but she never showed the stress of it. There was a real sombre feeling during that period of time because of the hardship we were experiencing, as well as the absence of our father and the uncertainty of his return to us.
With everyone retiring to sleep after family prayer, I sat watching the rain and the neighbours’ Christmas lights through our lounge window while our mother played the piano in the dark through the night. It was my first intimate experience with music. It was the first time that I felt the music as opposed to hearing it.
We didn’t have presents under the tree that Christmas, but it was the greatest gift our mother ever gave me, sharing her love of music with us. It has had a huge impact on me, and that experience has been the catalyst for my curious journey through music.
She shared with me in later years that she played the piano in Sunday school while she was pregnant with me. Music was a language I shared with my mother.
What do you think makes the music of Aotearoa New Zealand unique?
For me, as a Pacific person raised in Aotearoa, I feel privileged to be living in Aotearoa at a time when we have the largest Pacific population in the world now calling Aotearoa home, my own children were born here.
As a young person I grew up in South Auckland at a time when Pacific Islanders were a minority, so I was exposed to Māori culture at a grassroots level. It gives me enormous pride to travel across the country for work purposes and be welcomed in a powhiri, a haka, waiata, not just by Maori, but by non-Maori who now call Aotearoa New Zealand their home.
So much of our unique Aotearoa music is often the culmination of our artists and composers living in integrated diversity amongst these cultures.
Provide a brief overview of your personal journey with music.
From family and church gatherings in South Auckland to joining my high school band and eventually becoming a vocalist with various live bands in the late ’80s to late ’90s, actively working the live band circuit locally and nationally.
On a national tour with one of the more prominent bands I sang with, we began to notice that when we turned up to set up at some of these venues, they had no idea that we had been booked to perform there, so we spent a lot of the first leg of the tour hanging out in our accommodation. After Rotorua, it became apparent that our Manager was on a different kind of tour. So, we regrouped over a two-week layover in Masterton, and I was nominated to be the booking agent/manager for the remainder of the tour to Invercargill and back to Auckland, with the support of the Manager.
It was a real eye-opener for me as a young woman, having to deal directly with the venue managers, etc. I got to see the music industry in a very different way of being an artist. Most of the venues I dealt with were fair, but it was still quite a challenge as the urban music scene was at that time a very male-dominated industry.
I had been on a previous tour with a well-known South Auckland band called The Emeralds. They had a female drummer who also managed the band, and I found her energy interesting to watch in negotiations with the venue holders, so that gave me some insight. Also having the rest of the band members’ support gave me the confidence to work with this role.
I’ve since had a wide variety of roles in the music and arts industry, both on stage and behind the scenes. In addition to my own independent events, I’ve been privileged to have been part of some incredible Mahi over the years, which include:
- Being part of the Ōtara Music Arts Centre team who initiated the Manukau Secondary Schools Performing Arts Awards, now known as Stand Up Stand Out.
- I’ve co-produced the APO (Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra) Remix the Orchestra programme for 10 years, which in 2013 was one of only three organisations in the world to receive an International Music Council (IMC) Musical Rights Award from the UN.
- I am also grateful to have played a small part in helping to support the introduction of the Sistema Aotearoa programme into the Ōtara community and I am a founding committee member of the Pacific Music Awards.
When I first accepted a role at the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, a former colleague of mine from Te Wānanga o Aotearoa wrote on my farewell card the words ‘Noblese Oblige’ and suggested that these would be important words for me to understand in my new role.
For 10 years I worked as PA to the CEO, Board Secretary and Co-Producer of the APO Remix programme and organised other smaller events and anything else that needed support over the course of my term. I was able to see the mechanics of how the classical world of music operated, which was a vast contrast to my experiences in the urban contemporary music scene, similar infrastructure, but different kaupapa.
In my work in the urban contemporary music scene, I see a wealth of talent on the ground level, but a lack of accessible high-level support systems to connect talent to suitable platforms and sustainable career pathways.
Over the years, I have come to understand and embrace the words Noblese Oblige, which basically means that those in positions of privilege must act honourably and generously towards others, which resonates with my own Pacific values and guiding principles of service, alofa and respect.
SOUNZ plays an integral part in championing and uplifting the mana of music here in Aotearoa, bridging and honouring traditional music practises whilst providing an intersection for more contemporary composers who are pushing boundaries with their compositions. I’m proud to be part of the mahi ahead.
Why is music important to New Zealand culture?
As Pacific people, it’s not a separate way of being. Because we didn’t write our history and identity have been passed down through song, dance and art, all interconnected to the foundation of our culture.
I think music is important to all cultures because it is so universal. It’s an important form of our expression, and in much of the work that I’m privileged to be a part of, I’ve seen the direct impact of how can music changes lives.
Why is music important in schools?
We only have to look at some of the amazing artists in our industry to recognise how important it is to have music in our schools. Some of our artists have had access to music from an early age while others have had to go outside of the school system to find it.
We have many established artists now creating and building schools for future generations to have access to quality music programmes in communities. Our young people need to be able to speak other languages fluently, and music is a language that does get overlooked, yet we can all understand and interpret it in different ways.
What is the importance of music in society?
Some things can only be expressed best through music. Even the most hardened soul will eventually, in time, respond to music. That’s my personal experience.
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