Auckland's Pasifika festival will kick off in style this year with soul diva Sara Jane Auva'a and opera star Ben Makisi headlining at the opening Friday night concert on March 11.

The concert will also feature cultural performances, a gospel choir and fire dancers.

The inaugural Pacific Music Awards, including best Pacific album, formerly presented at the Tuis, will be held on the same night.

On Saturday, March 12, the Air New Zealand contemporary stage will showcase artists such as Ardijah, Adeaze and up-and-coming hip hoppers Dei Hamo, Savage and Alpharisk.

Now into its 12th year, Pasifika is the largest Pacific Island event in the country, attracting 170,000 visitors last year.

The weekend festival caps a three-week "Celebrate Pasifika" event that includes film, theatre, arts and crafts and sport.

Festival entertainment director Thelo Meleisea said staging the Pacific Music Awards was in recognition of Pacific musicians "exploding" onto the music scene.

Another drawcard this year is a hip hop dance competition, "off da hook", held with Mai FM.

The Herald will sponsor the children's stage at this year's festival.

The festival is one of more than 60 Auckland City Council free events in the Ak@Play summer series. The council gives $132,000 to Pasifika and a further $200,000 comes from sponsorship and stall rental.