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Opetaia Foa’i Interview: Bringing Authenticity to MOANA


Disney put together a fantastic team to make sure that this movie was an authentic representation of the pacific island people, and the man leading that charge was Opetaia Foa’i. I hope that you will enjoy my interview with Opetaia Foa’i as  much as I did! 

Opetaia Foa’i Interview: Bringing Authenticity to MOANA

Last month, I was in LA for the red (blue) carpet world premiere of Disney’s MOANA.

Disclosure: This event and trip to LA was an all expense paid journey sponsored by Disney. All thoughts, opinions and experiences are 100% my own! 

Of course by now MOANA has become a box office hit and it’s so neat to see the rest of the world embrace this film. So many wonderful talents came together to make this film amazing and insightful, even educational!

I shared with you my review of MOANA here, and in the next few days I will be sharing many more behind the scenes interviews from both cast and filmmakers.

I have already shared my interview with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and also my interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda and of course, make sure to check out my interview with Auli’i Cravalho, the young actress who voices Moana and my interview with Nicole Scherzinger who voices Sina, Moana’s mother.

Opetaia has been called one of New Zealand’s finest song writers and he had a huge part in creating the music in MOANA. You can read more about Opetaia Foa’i here.

Today I am so excited to share with you my interview with Opetaia Foa’i. Meeting him was such an honor and while he is a very simple man and a bit short on words – his words were very deep and meaningful and I just felt so much wisdom and pride as I listened to him speak about his personal journey in being a part of this movie: 

My jaw has been open for quite some time. I call it a aesthetic heaven, you know, that people can be around the table and they can talk about anything they like and there’s no one running anybody down, it’s credible. That’s new to me.
In my culture, music is like breathing air. I can never understand why I was always trying to write songs or do something musically. 

I’m happy where I am now. Just to get here, you know. I was trying to explain to you my journey, and it was 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. To be honest, I thought I’d reached the end of my run. So it just extended it a little bit more.

Opetaia on what he thinks about the finished film: 

Beautiful. You know, animation, everything. The animation, the story, everything was just incredible.

Authenticity and accuracy was obviously very important to Opetaia and when asked about how well his culture was portrayed, he answered very simply and confidently: 

My ancestors would be proud of this Movie.

He shared with us how proud he is of “We Know the Way”. It actually happens to be my very favorite song on the track, so beautiful and very well done. 

I wrote it and then got together with Lin (Miranda) and  Mark (Mancina) and we were pacing up and down getting all the lyrics together. Smoke coming out of us. And they come out with those beautiful lyrics and just slaughtered it. And then we knew something was special about this.

His passion for music comes from a very early age, and I love how simple and true his love for music is. In fact, when explaining to us what his favorite instrument is, I love his answer: 

I was born Samoa and people ask me what’s your favorite instrument, and I say a box or a wooden floor is my favorite. And it is. I always ask for a box, you know, because I believe you can really find a solo there of a tune by just feeling. And then from there, we expand.

Opetaia didn’t take this Disney journey alone. His children and family members share his love of music and their culture and as band members of Te Vaka, they were right by his side in this amazing journey (you will see his daughter Olivia perform in the video below)

Well the most amazing thing is that they really do appreciate the elements, the real traditional elements of the South Pacific. We’re very different, than the touristy side of things. There is that side of the Pacific that has been presented and I refuse to do that. I try and present as many elements of my culture as possible. I try and fit in. So my children, I’m waiting for them go OK Dad, you’re out, you know. But they haven’t quite said that yet.

He expanded on the elements that were important in this film in terms of representing truth and authenticity. 

Chants, Lot of drums and telling of the stories of ancient Polynesia. Those are the 3 elements that I always push. If you’ve seen the Movie, a lot of the chants, I tried to put in there. You’ll hear a lot of drums, percussions, and those key things.

I’m just so thrilled, just so happy that you guys are actually looking into my culture. Thank you. I‘m very proud of it  and I do mean when it when I say that the Ancestors, yI think they’ll be happy with this Movie too. I’m proud of it.

I’ve already said this, but meeting Opetaia Foa’i was truly an honor. I am so thrilled for his family and his culture that their stories have been shared and will continue to be shared as part of the Disney empire for years and years to come.

Opetaia Foa’i and Olivia Foa’i of Te Vaka Performing at the World Premiere of Disney’s MOANA 


A true highlight of this experience was that the day after I interviewed Opetaia, we had the amazing opportunity to watch his band Te Vaka perform a live performance at the World Premiere of MOANA inside the El Capitan Theater. Truly amazing, I can’t tell you how awesome this was and I highly encourage you to watch these videos. As you will see, he is quite passionate about his music and his culture and he contributed greatly to this film.

Below you will see some clips of their performances:

Just in case you are wondering what MOANA is all about, here’s a peek at the trailer:

Moana is in theaters now!


Meet the author – Keri Lyn

The creative and frugal mind behind She Saved for over 12 years now, Keri Lyn shares her adventures in parenting along with her love for family travel, country living and brand marketing. A self-proclaimed “brand loyalist”, Keri Lyn is known for her strong and enthusiastic voice when it comes to the products and brands that she loves. She Saved has become a community for like-minded consumers who appreciate saving money, time and sanity by getting the best deals on quality products and experiences.

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