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Music of the United States
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The music of Samoa is integral to life in the country. The most important and essential avenue has always been the voice. Singers mourn, rejoice, and reflect every emotion. The past, present, and sometimes the near future are put to song. Everyone sings, despite the cause, despite the situation, and most often, despite one's ability to do so.

Before the arrival of Europeans to the island of Samoa, musical instruments in use included a hollowed-out log (pate) and the fala, a rolled-up mat, beaten with sticks. Both were percussion instruments, which often accompanied singing. The Samoas are a Polynesian island chain, currently divided between the independent state of Samoa (formerly Western Samoa) and an American territory called American Samoa.

Much of Samoan history and culture were communicated through song and dance, both of which were integral parts of Samoan life. Traditionally, the fiafia was a musical or theatrical presentation celebrating a special event in which performance groups alternated in an attempt to outdo each others' efforts; in modern times, it is often a hotel performance, in which dances like the siva Samoa and sasa are performed.

"America Samoa", a song with words by Mariota Tiumalu Tuiasosopo and music by Napoleon Andrew Tuiteleleapaga, has been the official territorial anthem of American Samoa since 1950. "The Banner of Freedom," a song that honors the flag of Samoa, has been the national anthem of Samoa since 1962; it was composed by Sauni Iiga Kuresa.


Post-European contact

After European contact, the music of Samoa was greatly influenced by Western evangelical hymnody and popular music, particularly American popular music. Two stringed instruments quickly became commonplace in the islands: the guitar (kitara) and the 'ukulele. By the end of the nineteenth century, European-style brass bands had come into existence in the major towns.

As Christianity took root in the islands, late in the 19th century, ancient songs, accompanied by the percussive sound of sticks beating on a rolled mat, gave way to church choirs singing to the harmonies of pedaled organs. Later still, the onset of the radio years brought more variety, as local artists and audiences embraced each wave of "new" music. The arrival of the U.S. Marines in Samoa during World War II helped solidify the affinity for American popular music. Many earlier bands copied or imitated this music—a trend that continues today. It is common practice and well-accepted for Samoan musicmakers to take a Western song, replace the lyrics with Samoan words, and reintroduce the tune as an original. The guitar and 'ukulele were the most common instruments for composing and performing music. That sound is now often replaced by the electronic keyboard and the multiplex of sounds and faux instruments available with it. Many current Samoan musicians "upgrade" old Samoan tunes with new technology, or imitate and copy American popular music. Samoan music is very natural with no electronic used except a recorder, so they might give the world a treat.

Modern music

Modern pop and rock have a large audience in Samoa, as do several native bands; these bands have abandoned most elements of Samoan traditional music, though there are folky performers. For a number of early poppers in New Zealand, new dance styles were learned not on a trip to Los Angeles, but on a trip to Samoa. The islands of Samoa, central both physically and psychically in a diasporic migrant Samoan matrix, were an important early node in transmitting and translating U.S street dance Sputh to Aotearoa.Recently, the Samoan population has seen a resurgence of old Samoan songs, remixed in the style of Hawaiian reggae, but with some traditional elements, such as the use of the pate and the chord structure still in use. New Zealand continues to produce many modern popular Samoan stars, such as Jamoa Jam and Pacific Soul. Even the traditional pese lotu (church Songs) have seen a fair amount of change. Many pop bands are associated with a particular hotel, such as the RSA Band and the Mount Vaea Band. Some hotel bands have toured abroad, in New Zealand and elsewhere. Pop musicians include the Lole, Golden Ali'is, and The Five Stars, along with Jerome Gray, whose "We Are Samoa" remains an unofficial national anthem. Surprisingly, a Samoan group called Le Pasefika, playing only the old trditional music, has become the hottest-selling Samoan group in the United States. With the current trend, in which Samoan groups imitate or integrate modern pop sound, [Le Pasefika] has moved the opposite direction, recording only the old traditional songs.

The nearly three decades of Samoan involvement in street dance and rap music in the United States has significantly impacted cultural production in other places where Samoans settled, particularly New Zealand. In the early 1980s, Footsoulijah, four Samoan performers from the capital city of Wellington, credit the Blue City Strutters, who later became the hip-hop group Boo-Yah T.R.I.B.E, for spreading their lifelong interest in street dance and their eventual gravitation towards hip hop. Footsoulijah is animated, colorful, and always perform in camouflage fatigues, which represent their militaristic moniker. The group wrote the anthem ‘Represent for My People,’ which includes the chorus ‘Always represent for my peoples/Pacific islanders of foreign soil/style lethal/Take a look as we enter the next chapter/Flip the script/Polynesian is my flavour.’ [1]

There is currently a dichotomy between old and new in cultural aspects of Samoan life; specifically dance. While some assert that "Whereas Samoan music has adopted guitars and other musical instruments, dance, which relies solely upon the performers body (with some exceptions - fire dance, knife dance, etc) still requires the performer to retain grace and move their arms and hands in the approved fashion." [2] However a National Geographic article from 1985 shows a “juxtaposition of ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’ with two markedly different photographs of Samoan youth.” [3] One photograph has a Samoan child in traditional garb, dancing in a traditional way. In the other is a picture of a youth dressed in typical hip hop style dancing.

Like other Samoans, Kosmo, one of the group’s members and one of the most famous Samoan hip-hop artists, picked up his dance moves during his time in California. He integrated a combination of a bit of strutting, a little boogaloo and popping, and some tutting into his music. Kosmo learned the dance while staying with 'aiga in the City of Carson, a community which drew large numbers of Samoans relocating from the islands in the 1950s-70s. As Kosmo discovered, popping and other 'street dance' forms thoroughly saturated the lives of Samoan youth growing up in the late 1970s and early 80s in Carson and neighboring Compton and Long Beach. As he vividly remembers, 'all the coolest cats was poppin' down at [Carson's] Scott Park.'[3][4] Upon returning to New Zealand, Kosmo’s vocabulary brought prestige among his peers, the majority of whom tried to integrate dance moves from movies. “Kosmo didn’t consider himself any good until he returned to New Zealand…Here they were just doing the basics, he knew more.” For the young artist, this particularly hip hop oriented form of dancing was not only a way to express himself creatively, but also a powerful sexual tool: “For young men, dance skills also helped to attract the young women who were always present either as critical audience or fellow dancers. As Kosmo recalls, “All the poppers [5] got the girls,” highlighting another case of dance as an equalizing sexual power tool utilized by both sexes in global hip hop. [3] In 1990, Kosmo and two fellow Samoans created The Mau, a hip-hop group named for the organization that pushed for Samoan independence under both the German and New Zealand colonial administrations. Although the name was clearly rooted in Samoan history, the name also demonstrates United States influences. Similar to the movement of Black consciousness in America present at this time, the motto for the Mau movement in Samoa became Samoa Mo Samoa, Samoa for Samoans. The group continued to articulate a diasporic Samoan cultural nationalism by drawing upon their knowledge of Samoan history, as well as the popular stories of the US Black Power movement presently circulating in American hip hop. Their combination of the Samoan heritage mixed with American iconography was influential on the many groups that followed. [3]

Samoans abroad have achieved limited musical renown. The Boo-Yaa TRIBE had a brief flirtation with the American mainstream, while the Samoan Sisters found more lasting fame in New Zealand. The shows My Idol and Samoa Star Search have become important musical competitions in Samoa. Modern Samoan music shows influence from electrical instruments, jazz, and reggae, and even some house and techno styles; however, the Samoan way of life still shines out in the sometimes mournful tone of the music, but more often in fast-paced celebratory beats and rhythms.


Despite growing popularity and fame, Samoan bands are limited internationally; however, Samoa has produced well-known artists. The band Past To Present/ Ilanda (1990-2006) (which consisted of three Samoans and one Māori: Frank Laga'aia, Lennie Keller, Norman Keller & Leighton Hema; Hema later left the band due to personal reasons) gained great popularity, not only in Samoa and New Zealand, but also in Australia and the United States. While it was a great commercial success, as compared with Western boy bands, its members were talented, and they gained success that is yet to be equalled by any other islander band. In 2006 they are still in the music industry, either touring, recording or producing, as in their last production of Australia's "Young Divas". Another band with a similar career path and success was the Sydney-based band "Kulcha" who came on the scene for 2 albums but disbanded a couple of years later.

The Katinas, who moved to the United States at one point of their lives, is another popular Samoan band. They made an appearance at the Junior Youth Christian Program in Melbourne, Australia, in 2005.


  1. ^ Cultural Self-Esteem - The Resource | The Next
  2. ^ May 4, 2004. April 11, 2008.
  3. ^ a b c d Henderson, April K. “Dancing Between Islands: Hip Hop and the Samoan Diaspora.” In The Vinyl Ain’t Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. by Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle, 180-199. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 200
  4. ^ Dances of Life | American Samoa
  5. ^ latest videos - Funkstyler

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