A lovely introduction to Faʻa Sāmoa (the ‘Samoan Way’)...
Aside from awareness of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s heritage, it is fair to say that I grew up knowing little else about Samoa. The island nation is in a part of the world that means it very rarely finds itself in the wider public consciousness in the UK. Yet, for one of the first times recently I came across news about Samoan politics. Last month, I discovered that Samoa’s first female prime minister was locked out of parliament by her opponent, who has refused to step down. This got me thinking that I should learn more about Samoan politics. In my research I discovered that whilst it is a parliamentary democracy, they have a system called the Fa’amatai which is a traditional indigenous form of governance that they fuse together with a more modern understanding of political power structures. The system is fascinating as technically every Samoan is considered royalty under it.
“...although at moments it sound like it was written by the Samoan tourist board, its unashamed love for the homeland that they want to share with others is incredibly endearing.”
It is this honour and respect for the countries traditions that drew me towards this album. Although very clearly ‘traditional’ throughout, the album somewhat resembles an openness to current Western musical ideas at times. For example, Vailima is a fantastically fun and upbeat track with great synths. Even though released in the mid-1990s, the song has such an 80s pop feel to it, reminding me of tracks like Black Lace’s Agadoo. Even the track Sunrise could be claimed to have the most similar sound to a Western genre in its almost ‘doo woppy’ rhythm and blues-adjacent style.
Yet, for the most part the album does not deviate from its traditional music stylings. The Samoan language traditionally had no formal writing system, meaning they depended heavily on oral tradition to document ideas through music, and though I am unsure of what the album is about lyrically, because most of the tracks on the album are in Samoan, I am sure this is still the case for The Five Stars. The opening track however is sung in English. Maliu Mai I Samoa is a homage to their nation, and although at moments it sound like it was written by the Samoan tourist board, its unashamed love for the homeland that they want to share with others is incredibly endearing. The song fails to mention that Samoa finds itself in the path of storms and tropical cyclones and instead portray it as a fun and relaxed place.
There are tracks that are both mellow and upbeat. For me, though I enjoyed some of the mellower numbers such as E Le Lua Suga Ni Au loe and E Le Alofa E, the latter of which sounds almost like a beach-side lullaby, sometimes the lethargic nature of the songs can make the band appear unenthused. This is why I am not such a big fan of tracks like Ofoina Atu A’U Mo Oe because the band sound almost bored. Perhaps the reason why I am complaining about this track is because I feel that the band are in the element on the faster-paced songs that they perform full of energy. Lavalava Samoa has got some lovely guitar work. The singer Samu Poulava-Selesele does some brilliant crowd work almost scatting at points, almost willing on the audience to get on their feet.
This is an album that feels so intrinsically related to dance. One cannot help hear Sau Sau la Ta Fiafia and not imagine a dance similar in style to a Hula (known in Samoa as a Siva) being performed with this song as the backdrop. My favourite track Pese O Le Tatau has the echoes of a children’s song from my early years that I cannot remember. It makes me feel somewhat nostalgic for something I cannot quite yet identify. The constant shaking of the rattle-like instrument and use of traditional percussive instrument, perhaps the pele, the talipalau or the fala, make it a very enjoyable track.