Kōrero: Pacific arts in New Zealand

Whārangi 3. Pacific music and performing arts

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

The most visible contribution of Pacific artists to the New Zealand arts scene has been in performing arts such as music, dance, theatre, film and television.


Pacific music has always been popular in the New Zealand mainstream. Pioneers from the 1960s include Samoan singer Mavis Rivers, Tongan-born Bill Sevesi and his bands, Samoan guitarist Olaf Keil (who founded the band Herma Keil and the Keil Isles) and the Samoan Yandall Sisters.

In the 1980s artists Annie Crummer (Cook Islander) and Lole (Samoan) and the band Ardijah made waves in the local industry. Herbs, the founding fathers of Pacific reggae, emerged in the early 1980s and were still making music in the 2000s. The hip hop band Upper Hutt Posse included Teremoana Rapley, of Māori, Cook Islands and Kiribati descent. Their first album was released in 1989.

Since then, many more Pacific musicians have featured on the New Zealand music scene, including King Kapisi, Scribe, Ladi6 (all Samoan), Che Fu (Niuean/Māori), Savage (Samoan), Nesian Mystik, Brooke Fraser (Fijian/European), Aradhna (Samoan/Indian) and Deceptikonz. Critically acclaimed classical singers included Ben Mākisi (Tongan), Iosefa Enari, Daphne Collins, Jonathan Lemalu and Darren Pene Pati (all Samoan).


Dance companies Black Grace and MAU have made a significant contribution to New Zealand dance. The founder and artistic director of Black Grace, Neil Ieremia (of Samoan heritage), is regarded as one of New Zealand’s most accomplished choreographers. Internationally renowned avant-garde dance and theatre company MAU was founded by Samoan choreographer and theatre director Lemi Ponifasio.

Dancers of the Palace Dance Studio were recognised on the international hip hop dance scene. Founder and internationally renowned choreographer Parris Goebel (Samoan) created a uniquely New Zealand dance style known as ‘polyswagg’. She was a dancer and lead choreographer for the Auckland-based all-female dance group ReQuest, who won gold medals three years in a row at the World Hip Hop International Dance Championships in the United States. Since choreographing a music video for Jennifer Lopez in 2012 she has gone on to work with some of the world's biggest music stars, and become a star in her own right. In 2022 she received her third Emmy nomination.  

Pacific Dance New Zealand (PDNZ) was set up in 2010 by Dance Aotearoa New Zealand, with choreographer and educationalist Iosefa Enari its first director. PDNZ supports and extends the Pacific dance sector in New Zealand. It runs a wide range of programs, including two Auckland-based annual events – a Pacific Dance Fono and a dance residency.

Theatre, film and television

Artists of Pacific heritage feature strongly in New Zealand theatre and performing arts. Pioneering individuals and groups include Lani Tupu Snr, Nathaniel Lees, Maiava Eteuati Ete and Jay Laga’aia (all of Samoan heritage), producer Makerita Urale (Samoan) in Wellington, Pacific Theatre in Auckland and Pacific Underground (established in 1993) in Christchurch. In the 2000s there were groups such as Wellington theatre company The Conch (2002) and the South Auckland-based company Kila Kokonut Krew (2002).

Writer, actor, director and comedian Oscar Kightley (Samoan) was a founding member of Pacific Underground and a member of comedy theatre group the Naked Samoans (1998). Kightley is acknowledged as influential within mainstream theatre and television. His work with the Naked Samoans included New Zealand’s first animated sitcom, bro’Town (2004–9), which became a national and international success. The group followed broTown with the feature film Sione’s wedding (2006), which took the number-one spot in New Zealand in its first week, and had the biggest opening weekend of any New Zealand-made film, grossing over $3 million.

Sima Urale (Samoan) directed the award-winning short film O tamaiti (1996) and the feature Apron strings (2008). Other Pacific filmmakers in New Zealand include Toa Fraser, of Fijian descent, who wrote and directed No. 2 (2006), based on his play of the same name, and Samoan-born Tusi Tamasese, who wrote and directed The orator – o le tulafale (2011), the first Samoan-language feature film.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Kolokesa U. Māhina-Tuai, 'Pacific arts in New Zealand - Pacific music and performing arts', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/pacific-arts-in-new-zealand/page-3 (accessed 19 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Kolokesa U. Māhina-Tuai, i tāngia i te 22 Oct 2014