One of the many reasons why Moana has been a runaway hit at the box office is because of the authentic Polynesian music. Opetaia Foa’i is an incredible musician who worked in partnership with Lin-Manuel Miranda to create the perfect soundtrack to Moana. I am honored to share highlights of our interview with him today!
Opetaia was calm and collected during the interview. You can tell he is not used the the Hollywood lifestyle. He was reserved, but shared so much about his culture, his music, and why this movie meant so much to him.
While Opetaia is extremely talented and knowledgeable, he is not quite as well known as his co-writer Miranda. The first question was of course pertaining to how much time he spent working and collaborating.
Opetaia responded “Well, before Lin became famous….wicked famous, it was awesome because we had a lot of time so when we got together. He works very fast and I work very fast too. It was quite an amazing combination cause you’ve got Mark who is very experienced along that line and you’ve got Lin who’s very good with lyrics and directing. And there’s me who, I don’t read music but I do write from emotion. I can grab a scene and I can get emotion out of it very quickly…… I’m very childish in the Studio and luckily so was Lin and so we had a lot of fun together.”
When asked about his favorite part of the journey of making this movie, he started to answer by sharing that he was born in a hut in Samoa and where he is now is like ‘aesthetic Heaven’. He shared that in his culture that music is like ‘breathing air’ and his music was not seen as a job for a long time.
I think what struck me as different about Opetaia Foa’i over so many others we spoke with was his contentment for where he was. When asked what he hoped for, what was next for him his answer was not one you hear often in Hollywood crowds.
“You know, I’m happy where I am now. Just to get here, you know? I was trying to explain to you my journey; it’s really to promote my culture. I’ve traveled the world and people got sick of me talking about these people that are the best Navigators, best Sailors in the world, everywhere. And to be honest, I thought I’d reached the end of my run. I was ready to hang up my horse unless the opportunity came up.”
When asked if he had seen the movie and what he thought of it he said with great pride; “I could say this daringly. My ancestors would be proud of this movie.”
He says he is happy other cultures get to see his film, but he is mostly excited for his own people to see the film. “… a lot of them were brought up in the cities.” he hopes this film will connect people to their culture that they may have lost.
Disney films have a long history of bringing audiences incredible music. Moana’s music carries on that legacy, and the legacy of the Polynesian people beautifully. Opetaia Foa’i and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music will captivate audiences for years to come. You can read more about the music in our exclusive interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda too!
A fun fact – Opetaia’s daughter Olivia can be heard in the beginning of the movie. She sings during the opening credits as the signature Disney castle comes on screen before the movie. She also sang and danced at the red carpet premiere of Moana.
Check out a peek at Opetaia Foa’i’s work in this clip……
Thank you to Opetaia Fao’i for taking the time to share with us. We were inspired, and I know generations to come will be thankful for your music!