ANDREW JOHNSEN talks to Pene Pati from the popular opera, popera and generally genre- bending Sol3 Mio.
MOST PEOPLE wouldn't make the transition from hip-hop producer to operatic superstar - but Pene Pati isn't most people.
Pati, a tenor, is one third of the band Sol3 Mio along with tenor brother Amitai and baritone cousin Moses Mackay. The group make their Far North debut performance at the Kainui Road Vineyard in Kerikeri on December 30 as part of their Summer Series.
Pati finally gave into the noise begging him to come to Kerikeri.
"I'm definitely excited for it. I'm not sure about Moses because he's been up to Kerikeri a few times," he chuckled.
"I've always heard from people that I should go to Kerikeri and, when we put the idea of where to go, I said let's go there because we have so many fans [up there] and we think it's the perfect time, right in the middle of summer. It's going to be fantastic."
The band has come a long way from their humble beginnings in the backyards of South Auckland. Pati himself harboured ambitions of being a hip-hop producer and started it with a fair amount of success, before embracing his inner tenor.
It didn't come easy for the fun-loving Mangere kid after being told at an early junction he didn't have what it takes to be a success.
"When I first came out of college I wanted to be a hip-hop producer so I did that for three years and I was doing quite well. But there was a point that it all changed," he said.
"I was singing in a choir group because I thought it was a nice thing to do, I knew the dude and my brother and sister were doing it.
"The director said 'you could sing solo music, you've got some classical pipes there'. He literally forced me to go to university to pursue classical music! "I did classical piano first and then did classical singing. He said it would really help my hip-hop.
"It wasn't until I got to uni and I was the only brown person there and I thought 'what am I doing here?'
"Everyone knew what they were saying in Italian and knew their pieces and I was like, 'I know Marvin Gaye'.
"One of the big mentors there said, 'you know what Pene, don't embarrass yourself. Just give up.' And that broke my heart because he was this big Maori dude that was very well respected and was an incredible talent.
"I was heartbroken for about a day but then I decided I was going to prove this guy wrong. I told him I was going to sing on the world stage. I didn't know how, I didn't know when, but I was going to get there."
And prove him wrong he did. Pati has gone from strength to strength, gaining a place in the prestigious San Francisco Opera's Adler Fellowship programme only to turn it down in favour of his band.
It was a high honour he controversially declined and, expectedly, it didn't sit well over there.
"They were fuming because no one turns them down. There was a big article in a newspaper there that said "The tenor that could be king" and it had a big photo of me singing.
"It said 'oh, this boy declined the opera house. What the hell is he doing?' I told them I was following my instincts and in two years I'll be back, and funnily enough I came back right on two years.
"I auditioned for them, got everything, performed my arse off for them and then said I'm going to finish off with the song Sole Mio to show that I could do it and prove everyone wrong."
Then this year, Sol3 Mio performed a limited but grand season, accompanied by none other than the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, in the opera's 3200-seat theatre.
With the end of that successful season, the band returns home for another tour, bringing their unique sound to the North once again.
"It's like an operatic and contemporary combo with more emphasis on the opera end of it," Pati enthused.
"There's a huge mix of eclectic music which makes it so unique. It's three unlikely guys who've pursued classical music purely because of the love of it. It's an interesting sound that we bring to the table.
"Have you ever had those moments where you're in the backyard having a few cold ones with your brother and your cousin and you're just jamming? It's exactly like that on stage," he says, laughing.
And what can we expect from the concert?