Composer Igelese Ete is no stranger to the emboldening effect of performance in a region where cultures tend to value humility and self-effacement over any overt form of self-expression.
“You can’t blame others and say, ‘those people are taking all our ideas’ or ‘they’re not portraying us’,” he says. “There’s a certain time when you’re all humble about things, but you’ve got to hustle and put your work out there.”
The Journey began back in 1998, with a choral work composed by Ete and co-creator Jacki Leota for the “Mana Pasifika” exhibition opening at Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand’s national museum. The production was then expanded and performed in Auckland in 2001 and 2002, before arriving in Fiji’s capital in 2006.
The musical Malaga (The Journey) premiered in Suva, Fiji in 2006, staged by the University of the South Pacific. A moving re-enactment of how Oceania was first traversed and populated, it payed tribute to the navigational accomplishments of ancient Oceanic peoples who braved treacherous seas to populate what are now known as the Pacific islands. Malaga had evolved along the way, incorporating elements of dance and music from Melanesia and Micronesia into the initially Polynesian work. Composed by Igelese Ete, choreographed by Allan Alo and co-directed by Larry Thomas and Ian Gaskell, Malaga featured a cast of over 100 USP students.
After its stirring Fiji debut, Malaga was restaged in Suva in 2010 and has been performed in Australia and New Zealand. Cast members of the 2006 production went on to play a role in establishing the annual Mana Choral Secondary Schools Festival and formed the Pasifika Voices collective, which continues to perform across Fiji. From school leavers in Auckland, to secondary school students in Suva, Malaga has been a vehicle for affirming our history and connecting it to modern realities.
“That’s what I love about it. Malaga’s always been about empowering and I think that’s a major part of what the production is all about,” says Ete.
With a production planned for 2016 at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. Ete is working with Pacific Island youth living in the US to bring Malaga to the United States for the first time.
“My main concern is getting our Pacific works onto the world stage. How can we get something from our hearts, that has authenticity and that represents us well to the world? As far as Pacific musicals go, there’s not much around. So how do we create more?”
Having recently returned from month-long stint as musical director on the European tour for Moana – The Rising of the Sea, Ete is making inroads on that front.
Mere Nailatikau lives in Suva, Fiji. She is a graduate of the University of the South Pacific and participated in the Commonwealth Writers Pacific Prose Workshop in Suva in February 2015.