Enchanting Musical Sounds of the Pacific – MOANA Interview with Opetaia Foa’i

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If you’ve seen Moana, then you might have fallen in love with the music and the sounds of the Pacific. WE LOVE IT! In fact, the Moana Soundtrack (affiliate link) has been on almost conitnuous replay at our house since it was released on November 18th. Not only do we love the songs with English words (with words by the lyrical genius, Lin-Manuel Miranda), but we also LOVE the polynesian-inspired tracks. The sound is beautiful – completely enchanting. That is thanks to Disney hiring the right man for the job – Somoan born Opetaia Foa’i, leader of the internationally acclaimed Pacific World Music group Te Vaka. Here’s what you’ll hear as the movie opens (sung by Olivia Foa’i, Opetaia’s daughter):

I got goosebumps when those Polynesian chants rang out as the Disney castle comes on the big screen. I think the same may have been true for Opetaia when he heard his daughter open the film! How special! You could just see the pride in him – for his daughter, for the music he wrote, for the movie itself and how it represents his culture. Opetaia told us, “my ancestors would be proud of this movie.”Opetaia Moana Music

His music group, Te Vaka, has already won awards and is known in the international music community! But working with Disney on a project of this magnitude was clearly a different (and amazing) experience for him.

“I was born in [Western] Samoa in a thatched hut…just the thatched hut with no walls, so to find myself here is an incredible journey… My jaws been open for quite some time since they retained me. I call it a aesthetic Heaven, that people can be around the table and they can talk about anything they like and there’s no one running anybody down, it’s incredible.  So all that’s new to me”. 

Hearing him talk about his love of music, his culture, and the whole process of collaborating on the movie was just fantastic!

“It was awesome because we had a lot of time, so when we got together, we…he [Lin-Manuel Miranda] works very fast and I work very fast ,too. It was quite an amazing combination because you’ve got Mark [Mancina] who, of course, is very experienced along that line, and you’ve got Lin who’s very good with lyrics and his rapping.  And there’s me who-I don’t read music but I do write from emotion. I can grab a scene and I can get emotion out of it very quickly and I get bored with things very quickly, so we found that that combination worked really well.  I’m very childish in the studio and luckily so was Lin and Mark, so we had a lot of fun together.”


One of the most meaningful songs from the movie is actually “We Know the Way”. “The first track that I wrote was “We Know the Way”, and I wrote that as soon as-in 2015 , on the flight back home-when John [Musker] and Ron [Clements] and Osnat [Shurer] were explaining what they wanted, and of course voyaging is my thing-I was so excited that I wrote that. And then we got together in Carmel with Lin and Mark. And Lin was pacing up and down outside and getting all the lyrics together.  Smoke coming out of his [ears].  And he come out with those beautiful lyrics and and just slaughtered it. And then we knew something was special about this.”

Someone in our group asked another question that I particularly loved his answer to…

Question: You listened to that voice inside.  What’s next on the horizon for you?

“You know, I’m happy where I am now.  Just to get here. My journey  was really to promote my culture and you know, I’ve traveled the world and people got sick of me talking about these people that are the best Navigators, best Sailors in the world, everywhere.  And to be honest, I thought I’d reached the end of my run and I was ready to, you could say, hang up my horse unless the opportunity came up.  So it’s just extended it a little bit more.”

So humble and grateful. I LOVE stories like this!

In addition to the interview, we had the pleasure of seeing Opetaia and Te Vaka perform at the MOANA World Premiere in Hollywood!

Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)
(Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

And they were SO good! Sometimes groups don’t sound as good live as they do on CD’s and such. But not this group. They were fabulous – the sounds, the chants, the percussion, the melodies, the dancing, the culture! I LOVED it all! Te Vaka Moana Premiere

Isn’t it great?! So, if you love the sounds of the Pacific and music from Moana, BUY THE SOUNDTRACKYou won’t regret it! While you’re at it, why not support Opetaia’s Te Vaka and grab one of their CD’s too?! I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

Moana Poster

Take the whole family to see MOANA over the holidays!!! And from more from MOANA, you can follow on Facebook, follow on Twitter, and follow Disney Animation on Instagram

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I’m Sara, a mom to three adorable boys living in the Arizona desert. As a former teacher, I love sharing my passions with others. So, have a look around for creative inspiration about cooking, creating, celebrating, traveling with kids, and more everyday mom endeavors!


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