Mana Moana: Former Miss Samoa NZ lends voice to Pacific choir show
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
From the South Pacific to one of Auckland’s biggest stages is a former beauty queen set to serenade hundreds of fans at a special concert.
Seumanu Fonoifafo McFarland-Seumanu is due to perform at a special show - Mana Moana: A Fusion of Symphony of the Pacific - tomorrow that joins the sounds of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and a hand-picked Signature Choir showing off a unique take on Pasefika musika.
The 27-year-old, who grew up in Otara, is the former Miss Samoa NZ, Miss Samoa and Miss Pacific Islands.
Crowned for all three titles in 2019, her reign turned into a historic one when the Covid-19 pandemic turned her one-year reign into a three-year one for all three titles - finally passing the crowns over last year.
“A year later, I still have the respect of the Pacific and my community. Having held that title, I feel honoured and it isn’t one I take lightly.”
Seumanu said she was approached to join the choir and decided to give it a go, even though she doubted her ability to sing.
Before that, her stage singing experience included a dazzling performance as Selena Quintanilla-Pérez for her talent during the Miss Samoa pageant - which proved to be a crowd favourite and winning performance.
She knows a lot of people will be watching and she does not want to let her community down, she said.
Two musical worlds uniting as one
“Never in my entire life would I have thought that I’d get to be part of such a historic moment.
“It’s like the way I imagine it - two worlds coming together in one. I think that idea is what excites me the most,” she said.
“It took me back to that moment when I lived in Samoa and I think the beauty of the choir that I found is that you’re actually learning the meaning behind the song.”
Mana Moana is a fusion of two musical worlds colliding on stage, with 80 choral singers and 78 NZSO musicians.
“Music has always been a big thing, but to see the specific music sung alongside what I would call white men’s instruments is astonishing.”
Beauty queen, singer and nurse
Seumanu grew up as a church minister’s daughter, so she had to be in every musical church band, where she sang with her younger sister.
“I was in a two-man band with my sister when we were growing up. It came with the territory.”
She works full-time as a clinical nurse specialist at Kidz First Middlemore Hospital, juggling family and community outreach.
Her experience as a public health nurse also meant her reign as Miss Samoa allowed her to step up in a much-needed capacity during the Covid pandemic, as well as the deadly measles pandemic that happened in Samoa in late 2019.
The choir has taught her that when they perform, they are also telling a story.
As a nurse specialist, McFarland-Seumanu believes this type of music is good for your mental health.
“Music has a therapeutic side to it. This is definitely a way to promote that side of health.”
She said many members of the choir do not speak their Pacific mother language but use it to connect with their roots.
The Mana Moana project was curated by Helen Tupa’i, music director of Signature Choir, in partnership with Wellington’s Pasifika communities and orchestrated by composer and arranger Thomas Goss.
The music director says the Pacific language is beautiful with its different nuances.
“For our non-Pacific peoples, orchestral music is usually seen as a European thing, but fusing it together with our Pacific music is a world first.
“It took some convincing with the NZSO, particularly on the financial investment side of things.
“But our people proved that by showing up the first time in Wellington and after that show, they were convinced.”
Mana Moana is at Spark Arena tomorrow. For ticket information, visit: Ticketmaster
Hero image: Former Miss Samoa, Miss Samoa NZ and Miss Pacific Islands Fonoifafo McFarland-Seumanu. Photo / CY Photography-Apia Samoa