We are Pasifika

was a big night for Manukau Symphony Orchestra, and we were in the stadium of the Vodafone Events Centre rather than the customary concert hall.

It was masterminded and presided over by composer and conductor Matatumua Opeloge Ah Sam, whose large-scale compositions sat alongside popular operatic numbers and traditional Pacific song.

The variety worked well. From the start, we realised that Mozart was not on offer when lithe Maori warriors gave out their traditional challenge to the conductor and soloists.


Opeloge Ah Sam's spectacular choral and orchestral welcome was followed by a lyrical tribute to the people of the Pacific. Recitations from the writings of Albert Wendt introduced an operatically tinged ballad, delivered with sheen and soul by Leila Alexander against Loata Mahe's sweet violin descant.

Alexander, a young and promising soprano, shared the stage with some of Pasifika's operatic legends: Daphne Collins, Rejieli Paulo and Eddie Muli'aumaseali'i.

This trio held little back. An intense vibrato did not lessen the thrill of Paulo singing Morricone, and Muli'aumaseali' spread devilish glee in an aria from Gounod's Faust. Collins brought a real tenderness to Puccini's O mio babino caro.

Younger talents included a funky instrumental quartet led by saxophonist Andre Paris. The cool energy that they gave to Opeloge Ah Sam's music blended well with the full-voiced choir, drawn from churches and schools throughout the community.

Other bonuses included a svelte Elaine Ward, totemically masked, with two chunky male dancing companions and MC Yolande Ah Chong, peppering her formal, respectful introductions with spurts of playful scolding.

For those who had come for Opeloge Ah Sam's music, it was filtered through the evening, and sometimes acoustics worked against his scores' unforced grandeur.

We are Pasifika was an important musical event for this community, including a welcome item from the young string players of Sisteme Aotearoa. These youngsters have come a long way in a few years, ending their selection with a lively Polish offering, combining song and instrumental. All of which proves that South Auckland takes multi-culturalism very, very seriously.

Classical review
What: Manukau Symphony Orchestra
Where: Vodafone Events Centre
When: Saturday