Out of the classroom and onto the stage

Issue: Volume 95, Number 12

Posted: 4 July 2016
Reference #: 1H9d2i

Smokefree Pacifica Beats is helping students develop self-belief through an engaging blend of culture, music, movement and language.

Nicola Nimo and Henry A’Pe as the duo ‘Blessed’ took out the duo title at the Auckland Smokefree Pacifica Beats title this year. The year 12 students from Manurewa High School have played together in a band for a couple of years, but only formed Blessed two months ago. 

Behind almost every successful musician there’s an inspirational music teacher.

Take Broods: back when Georgia and Caleb Nott wowed Smokefreerockquest as The Peasants of Eden, Garin College HOD Music Kyle Proffit was the man who believed his Nelson students could do it.

Even he could not have envisaged their stunning international success, now making it in the US with their second album Conscious released in June.

Georgia is quick to credit Smokefreerockquest with their introduction to the music industry. But the event’s sister-ship Smokefree Pacifica Beats plays a similar role. Teachers report that it’s helping students to develop a sense of self-belief, leading to achievements that cross the boundaries from music into wider academic success.

One of the event’s greatest champions is Alfriston College HOD Music Davin Tornquist.

“I actively promote this event to teachers all the time,” he says.

“At Alfriston our philosophy is learner-centred, what the kids want is important. With Pacifica Beats the kids want to engage – it’s an authentic real world project – and the crossover motivation opens doors from music to other subjects, such as photography, media and electronics.”

Tornquist says for the kids he teaches the importance of music cannot be over-estimated.

“These kids come from a culture of music, not just in church but in all aspects of their lives – it’s a living breathing part of their culture in a way that it’s not these days for most European New Zealanders. The support they get from their community with their musical endeavours helps to give them a great sense of connectedness.”

Alfriston’s latest success, Smokefree Pacifica Beats 2015 winners, soul funk 10-piece Reciprocate, is urban-contemporary in sound and dress. With the more traditional entrants, whānau and community support can be seen in their elaborate and impeccable costumes.

“Contemporary or traditional, the students are proud to take their culture in language, dress, movement and story into their performance,” Tornquist says. “Pacifica Beats gives them room for a variety of ways to express themselves.”

Linguistically Tornquist credits Smokefree Pacifica Beats with being ahead of its time.

“It’s taken a couple of decades for New Zealanders to incorporate words like whānau and tamariki into everyday language,” he says. “On stage in Pacifica Beats kids might be singing in a mix of te reo, Niuean and Tongan – their lyrics are a linguistic melting pot, which may be where we’re heading in the wider culture.”

Further afield on the East Coast, professional musician Jane Egan has brought a very 21st century style to her role as HOF Arts at Gisborne Girls’ High School.

Egan is a Smokefreerockquest alumna herself, from the early ‘90s, and has since been involved with the event as a judge and stage manager.

This year she had 19 entrants in Rockquest and nine in Pacifica Beats. She says though the events are nominally competitive, for most teachers the emphasis is on participation.

“We have no unlicensed youth venue in Gisborne so this is our kids’ only opportunity to perform in a real life context out of the classroom and to express their youth culture in front of their peers,” Egan says.

“It’s totally different from putting their music online – they get a buzz back from audience.”

The roll at Gisborne Girls’ High is over 50% Māori, and Egan says a high number of students take music and are ‘really excited’ by the opportunity to draw on their own culture.
She also notes the students are way past seeing the event as merely a reggae contest.

“Because we’ve been involved in Pacifica Beats for so long it has become a norm for them to write songs in te reo and to include Māori instruments,” she says.

“The kids have become really comfortable in expressing their culture through music.”

And like Tornquist, Egan credits the event with enhancing cross-cultural understanding.

“It’s a really good way for students to expand their knowledge – they get to hear about each other’s culture and discuss it in a safe way.”

Smokefree Pacifica Beats has an impressive list of successes, most notably Nesian Mystik, the only New Zealand group ever to have 10 singles all go gold or platinum.

Keep an ear out for Strangely Arousing. The five piece reggae-ska group won Pacifica Beats in 2013, and showed the professionalism of two years of gigging when they launched this year’s event in Auckland in May.

Lead vocalist Lukas Wharekura says entering Pacifica Beats gave him an avenue to explore his own culture.

“I wrote a song that had a lot of historical background, which meant looking into my own lineage,” he says.

The others in the band agree that using te reo Māori in their music to enter Pacifica Beats opened up a ‘huge range of opportunities’.

Widening the SFPB Net

From 2016 bands, duos and solo acts can enter Smokefree Pacifica Beats via their local Smokefreerockquest regional heats (or final in areas with no heats), and online.

Another innovation this year is performance workshops held in Whangarei, Gisborne, Rotorua, Wellington and Christchurch.

SFRQ founder and director Glenn Common says these aim to encourage and inspire Smokefree Pacifica Beats entrants and potential entrants.

“They’re for students at the emerging level of talent, and as well as those entering the event. We’ve offered students a couple of hours with Kiwi music greats such as Anika Moa, to give them practical tips to help them to understand what it takes to make their performance stand out.”

Cultural criteria

Smokefree Pacifica Beats recognises and reflects the unique cultural identity of Aotearoa and the Pacific, and as such, participants must incorporate Māori/Polynesian language, instruments, dance or movement in their work.

Performances in the competition must feature at least one of the following four elements:

  • Language – at least 25% of any chosen Māori or Pacific language
  • Sound – a traditional instrument from Aotearoa or the Pacific, eg, taonga puoro, drums, ukulele, conch
  • Action – traditional movement, dance and/or action from Aotearoa or the Pacific, eg, haka, poi, siva, hula
  • Identity – a use of lyrics or a style/flavour that reflects Māori and Pacific cultures.

For more information go to the SFPB website(external link) 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 8:35 pm, 4 July 2016

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts