IN REVIVAL MODE: THE SAMOA MUSICIANS ASSOCIATION
Valentine’s Day — seen by some as a crass and commercial way to tap into the deep human yearning for a soul mate or a life-long love; for others, it is an opportunity to express beautifully romantic bonds of affection and courtship, and has nothing to do with the hype.
Whichever way you see it, there are few who can express the joy—or the heartbreak — of love like a man with a guitar in his hands. Add a few singers with great range, a piano man, a drummer or two… and you have a jam session—a “kani kapila”— if you prefer the Hawaiian, and a whole lot of good vibes.
Valentine’s Day 2013, will be an opportunity to enjoy just such a session. Tomorrow night promises a golden opportunity to sit under the moon, and listen to the mellow and soothing sounds delivered by our island’s best musicians.
It’s their plan to revive the Samoa Musicians Association — the SMA — and they are anxious to please.
BACK IN THE DAY
According to Fagafaga Danny Langkilde, himself one of the island’s iconic entertainers, there were many live bands in American Samoa in the 1960s. He said that music in the territory “really took off in that era — with bands like the Rebels, the Spirits, the Leonidas and more.
“Playing a musical instrument was very popular and the youth were eager to learn,” he said.
Moving into the 70s — which produced some of the greatest bands in the annals of rock and roll on both sides of the Atlantic — one could find live bands playing everywhere on island.
From the Tiki Night Club in Leone, to the Treetop near the airport, to the Bamboo Room in Fagatogo, you could find great music, and accomplished musicians. There was also Soli's Restaurant, Evalani's Cabaret, the Tepatasi in Pago Pago, and the Tumua Palace all the way out in Lauli'i.
Some of the bands popular in the 70s were the Easy Bruddahs, with Hans and Danny Langkilde, Paul Pouesi, Arona Maluia and Tom Scanlan, and the Junior Hall band, with Junior Hall, Bill Legalley, Tui Masaniai, Doug Smith and Harold Siufanua.
You could find JR Scanlan at the Bamboo and Duke Wellington at Evalani's. Jerome Grey and Ava performed at Soli's along with the Easy Bruddahs.
There was the Dateline Band headed by Lui Tuitavuki with Joe Mataele at the Rainmaker Hotel.
And then into the 80s, it was Island Magic with Danny Langkilde, Pat Tervola, Robert Stevens, and Tom Scanlan playing at the Coral Lounge at the bowling alley in Pago Pago. (One of the best places to dance — anywhere!)
Later on, it was Junior Hall, Doug Smith, Bernard Scanlan, John Ioane, and Francis Leleua playing at that same Bowling Alley.
Speaking of dancing — for a long while, Disco was king, but in the early 90s the music scene in America finally saw the end of the Disco era.
It was then that Disc Jockeys and canned music became the norm. Nightclubs and public events that had once employed live musicians now hired one or two “DJs” who chose the tunes, adjusted the dials, and replaced the sounds of a live band, for at least a decade.
Club owners found it more economical to hire one or two DJs than an entire live band.
About the same time, the Disco era was also fading in Tutuila, but there were still dozens of musicians who had picked up guitars, keyboards and drums, in their early years, and just never stopped playing. Others returned home after years of entertaining elsewhere.
A growing number of musicians found themselves in the territory, and well, being musicians, they got together to do what they did best. Play music, compose, sing, laugh, and play more music.
Not generally known to be a highly organized lot, they decided — anyway — to organize.
“We just decided it was time to put together an association which would promote island talent, and keep us playing and practicing ”said Fagafaga, who is himself an accomplished drummer.
“We knew DJs were around, but we also knew that live music still had a place.”
Reminiscing about those days, he said, “We had so many ideas… we wanted to give lessons to the youth, we wanted to promote local music, and we wanted to make sure that we gave the next generation a legacy and a body of music to carry on.”
Members of that early musicians association were both established names and newcomers: Mal Lavata’i, Harry Miller, Ruth Tuiteleleapaga, Chande Lutu-Drabble, JR Scanlan, Chico Pouesi, Pat Tervola, Doug Smith, Jr. Hall, Vaito’a Hans Langkilde, Sipa Anoa’i, Danny Langkilde, Francis Leleua, Henry Tavake, and Joe Tavale were all part of the music scene, as was Tau Hunkin, who could play Sam Cook, Ray Charles and Elvis Presley so well, you would swear that none of them had ever left the building.
Talented, charismatic and versatile, the musicians of the territory stole every show. Many are unaware that Danny Langkilde, Tau Hunkin and Bernard Scanlan brought down the house in Rarotonga during a Pacific Music Festival there in 1995. Representing American Samoa, they were the talk of the Cook Islands for years after that.
So Valentine’s Day, 2013 will be a time when poets, musicians and dreamers will do their best to celebrate love.
Sadie’s by the Sea, with its gorgeous harbor view, lovely pandanus trees, twinkly white lights and soft breezes will play host to the revival of the Samoa Musicians Association. It will be a celebration of all that is good about music — island style, smooth jazz, rhythm and blues, you name it, they do it, and they do it well.
Which is to say, it will be about the hope and anguish and longing and dreaming, and yes, the celebration of that crazy little thing called love.