As far as ambitious album releases go, nothing much comes close to the new project from Loopy Tunes Preschool Music. The Christchurch duo of sisters Leah Williams-Partington and Siu Williams-Lemi have released ‘Pasifika Beatz‘, a project containing 10 albums, each with songs sung in a different Pacific language. Sam Smith caught up with the sisters to find out how the gargantuan project (they recorded over 50 songs in one session) came together.
The ‘Pasifika Beatz’ programme are Pacific Island pre-school music sessions, started by Plunket, that are currently run in Auckland, by Natalia Gasu. She approached us about using one of our songs for the programme, last year, not long after the lockdown ended. While chatting to her about it, she also told us about her vision for the albums, and then things just came together from then!
Each album is structured the same. They all have 10 songs per album and start with a welcome song, then include the same five learning songs, that teach some basic words in that language (body parts, shapes, animals, numbers, etc). The seventh song is an alphabet, and the last three songs are traditional tunes in that particular language or bilingualised childrens’ songs that are mostly in that language.
Each album also has an accompanying action video, available on the Whānau Āwhina Plunket YouTube channel.
We are able to speak a bit of Māori and Tongan, and can pronounce Samoan with some help – though Siu speaks it more as her husband is Samoan. We are not fluent in either Māori and Tongan, even though Tongan was the first language we spoke as children.
We have already released a few songs all in te reo Māori, and a few all in Tongan, also. But none of the other languages. (The other languages/Pacific cultures they’ve embraced are Cook Islands Māori, Niuean, Fijian, Kiribati, Rotuman, Samoan, Tokelauan, Tuvaluan.)
We worked with Natalia Gasu (from Plunket), initially, to try to figure out how we were going to make it work, then a team from Plunket was set up, once funding had been sought, to help make it all happen – Francois Kayembe, Clare Green and the Plunket comms team!
We were very lucky to have a talented musician, and good friend, Toa Siulangapo, join us for most of the songs. For the albums, she played the guitar, bass, ukulele, Cook Islands ukulele, full drumkit, Samoan pate (drum), and a floor tom (drum) and snare drum (the last two, as solo instruments). She is extremely talented and we really could not have achieved the vision behind some of the songs, as easily as we could have, and within the short time frame, without her – so we are very grateful that she got on board with the project!
Each language had a translator or two that we were in constant contact with, via social media or email, to ensure that our pronunciation was as accurate as we could get it! Many video clips and late-night exchanges with them were made, and we are eternally grateful for their patience and willingness to teach us!!
Our sound engineer Thom O’Connor was amazing! He is always so positive and encouraging and had some really good input into the direction of a few of the songs.
Our whānau were amazing and helped out with looking after our tamariki so that we could do rehearsals/have meetings/get some sleep!!; our big sis took photos and video footage that was used for promo; our big bro played the trumpet on a song and Siu’s whole whānau featured in a few songs, too.
Then we obviously had to communicate and sort things with the release side of the project, so had many back-n-forth emails with the teams at DRM, Recorded Music NZ, our audio mastering dude (Peter Rattray) and APRA AMCOS NZ.
We also connected a graphic artist, Faith Leota, from here in Christchurch, with the Plunket team, to create the wee characters for each culture that feature on the album covers and on the YouTube videos, etc.
It was cruisey-az!! Haha! Nah, there was definitely some stress, but, we kept things moving – we had to! We believed so much in this project that we just knew we had to make it happen, and we’re both pretty stubborn and were very determined!!
The whole thing was recorded over six full-day sessions at local Christchurch recording studio, Orange Studios. There were two weekend sessions, and then two individual days. We focused on four languages per session, in the two weekend sessions, then covered the last two languages in the last full-day session, and then had to go back in a few weeks later for some fix-ups. The most songs recorded in a session was 53! That was in the first weekend because we added in some of the shorter, easier learning songs in the other languages, which, in hindsight, was a massive help!
It definitely helped to do it this way, because then we were all-in with the languages we were about to record, and then we’d effectively ‘wipe the slate clean’ and it would be all about the next lot of languages. The song lyrics had to be written phonetically for some of the languages (eg. Rotuman, Kiribati, Tokelauan, Fijian) – this step is most definitely, what helped the most with our learning!
Yes, and no! Haha! We wrote out the song lyrics phonetically to be able to record them, and worked very closely with the translators, sending and receiving audio clips to ensure consistency in our pronunciations. We actually loved learning about the languages and cultures and seeing/hearing the similarities in some, and the differences in others and pondering how and why these differences occurred, especially considering some of the islands are seemingly so close to each other.
The writing part of it was all done for us by translators and before doing up the lyric sheets for each album, we did do a lot of checking and re-checking!
The intention was to create some waiata for young tamariki and their families to hear and learn in their own reo/language. To give them a sense of identity and excitement in their ability to learn even super basic words in their culture, and to spark a desire to continue this learning! It was created as a music resource that is part of the ‘Pasifika Beatz’ programme toolkit which is hoped to, eventually, be distributed around Plunket centres nationwide!
By making the music available digitally (via platforms such as YouTube, Spotify, etc) we hoped that it would then make the music accessible as a resource for all.
For our side of it, the music side… it’s been amazing! We have received so much positive feedback!! We’ve had videos and photos sent through with tamariki singing along to a song or a preschool of tamariki doing the actions to a song. We’ve talked to families where they’ve shared that their child will only settle when one of the songs is playing, or that their child (who is not of that particular ethnicity) loves a particular album… and we get heart-swells every time!
During each Pacific Island language week, we will be promoting each album as a resource for ECE centres/ preschools/ kindies/ schools, to further help others hear and learn about each culture. Additionally, we have already had many families share with us that their tamariki are really enjoying hearing songs in a different language to what they are used to, which really highlights that music really is a universal language!!
For us, our part in the ‘Pasifika Beatz’ project is done. Natalia and the Plunket team are currently rolling out the preschool sessions within Auckland libraries, and I believe it’s her hope that the toolkits can then be made up and provided to as many Plunket centres as possible around NZ!
But, yeah, for us, we’ll just keep promoting each language and all the songs as much as we can, when we can! We would love for our mahi to inspire more waiata in each reo by other artists, and to have a wave of Pasifika-based music out there for young tamariki to grow up singing and listening to, as a natural part of their everyday lives – now that would awesome!!