Motherland Samoa served as a great reminder to us all of the importance of being proud of where you come from - no matter where you are.
By: Gabrielle Langkilde | Sunday, June 11, 2023
Kids with Samoan flag made from bandanas | Alafaga for Pasefika Presence
For artists Rellek Brown, Kennyon Brown, and Bina Butta (aka Robina Brown-Fainga’a), a deep love and passion for music was something that was inevitable. Like many typical Samoan families, the three siblings had grown up in a devout church-going household, and with their mother as the choir director for every congregation they moved to, singing in church was never much of an option.
Even more than singing in church, it seemed that their love for music had been developed and passed onto them through their culture and lineage. While the three grew up in diaspora between the US and Australia, their families originally hail from the villages of Malie, Lefaga, Lotopa, and Sauniatu of the beautiful country of Samoa. In addition to both of their parents having been musicians, their late grandfather Palauni Tito Brown, who hailed from Malie, had also been a songwriter and had written the Samoan classic “Le Masina E” - which has since been covered by well-known Samoan artists such as The Five Stars, Ozki Band, and Wayno.
And over the past couple of years, the Brown siblings have continued their family’s legacy and grown into very successful individual artists, with hit sensations such as “Be, “Amelia”, and “Lady Love” - each with millions of streams on platforms such as Youtube and Spotify. However for the three of them, music has always been much more than a path towards a successful career. It has been a way to honor their lineage, culture, and where they come from.
“Being Samoan and Polynesian…entertaining, music, and dance are a big part of our culture. So I think it’s been naturally gifted to us,” said Kennyon Brown.
“We’re not just representing ourselves, but we’re representing our families and our ancestors… And essentially we’re carrying on [our grandfather’s] legacy,” said Bina Butta.
And while their success has done much in highlighting Samoan art and talent by taking them to perform on stages around the world, the three of them had not yet achieved their long-awaited dream of performing in their motherland of Samoa - the homeland of their culture and ancestors.
That was, of course, until they got the call about an opportunity to perform at the first-ever Motherland Samoa Festival, which was set to be the biggest festival ever to be brought to Samoa. So even amidst a busy schedule of international touring under their label Future Now, dropping everything to seize this opportunity to travel home and perform at Motherland Samoa was a no-brainer.
A Beautiful Homecoming
The Brown siblings, along with their fellow label artists DJ Noiz and Donell Lewis, were not the only ones to get the call to be a part of this historic event. In fact, on Saturday, June 3rd, the Motherland Samoa Festival brought to the stage some of the Pacific’s most widely-celebrated performers, including headliners such as Fiji and J Boog. In addition to these headliners, the festival’s lineup was quite extensive including, not only celebrated local talent such as Mautoatasi & Matalena, Pacific Love Band, and Zipso, but also Samoan artists out of New Zealand and Australia, such as the HP Boyz, Lisi, Savage, Tree, and more.
While Motherland Samoa turned out to be a beautiful showcase of the wide range of Samoan and Pasefika talent, it also signified something even greater. It signified a homecoming of our people and served as a great reminder to us all of the importance of staying grounded in your culture and being proud of where you come from - no matter where you are.
For many of the artists, this was their first time performing in their motherland. Besides the Brown siblings, many other artists on the lineup spoke at the Motherland Press Conference on Friday, June 2nd, about how this would be their first time getting to perform in Samoa and about how much it meant to them.
“Afio Ane Loa'' singer Tree spoke about how humbled she was to be performing in Samoa for the first time and stressed the importance of her culture in her work saying,
“A leai se aganu’u, e leai se fa’amoemoe. Without our culture, there is no purpose…That’s why we’re all here together [at Motherland], to really push that narrative.” - Tree
“Alo I Ou Faiva” singer Lani Alo chimed in with his own personal story of how, after years of only writing English songs, his big break didn’t come until after he started writing Samoan songs. He stressed the importance of not being ashamed of your language, culture, and homeland - no matter where you go or where you are.
The Pride of a Country: Singing 685 to the World!
It is also important to note the impeccable timing of this homecoming of artists, as it had come at such a beautiful, lively time of celebrating Samoa’s completion of 60 years of Independence.
The pride of the country was most tangible, with Samoan flags lining many villages and flying on the backs of every other passing pickup truck. In the days leading up to Motherland Samoa, the air was still fresh with the excitement of Samoa’s Independence festivities - with large church services, beautiful performances of singing and dancing, and the long-awaited reemergence of the national fautasi race after a six year hiatus.
And while the timing was perfect in terms of providing a momentum of high energy for the festival, it was also fitting to see one of the largest celebrations of Samoan and Pasefika music coincide with the celebration of Samoa’s hard-fought road to independence.
Samoa Independence Day 1962. Prime Ministers, Mata'afa Faumuina Fiame Mulinu'u II and Keith Holyoake, lower their countries' flags | National Publicity Studios
In 1962, Samoa had become the first Pacific Island nation to gain independence, after a long struggle for freedom against colonial rule, first under Germany (1900-1914) and then under New Zealand (1914-1962). Under these two eras of colonial rule, Samoa and its people endured cruel injustices including unfair banishment of their matai to faraway islands, wrongful imprisonment of those who spoke out against government, the carelessly handled outbreak of the 1918 influenza - which killed an average of 22% of Samoa’s population - and the 1929 Black Saturday shooting on a peaceful parade of Mau Movement protesters. Despite this history of tragedy, Samoa has proven strong and resilient as shown today through their efforts to diversify their economy, their strong stances in international government forums, and, most evidently, through their achievement of over a half century of independence.
And while the festival was not directly tied to Samoa’s Independence Day festivities, the pride of the nation was just as palpable at Motherland Samoa. It could be seen in the myriad of Samoan flags that were raised high in the sky as soon as the rhythm to “685” by Victor J Sefo began to play. It could be heard in the voices of the crowd screaming their hearts out to all the words of Lani Alo’s “Alo I Ou Faiva”. And it could be felt in the way everyone, both young and old, immediately broke out into Samoan siva at the sound of Wayno’s “Siva Samoa 2K22” - despite being ankle-deep in mud and drenched from the heavy rains of the night.
Displays of cultural pride at Motherland Samoa | Alafaga for Pasefika Presence
These beautiful, brazen displays of national pride during the festival cemented even further the importance of not only carrying your culture wherever you go, but also of knowing and taking pride in the history that you come from.
It Takes a Village: Returning, Reuniting, and Giving Back
Needless to say, the festival highlighted the value of returning home, reuniting as a people, and giving back to your community.
When asked about what being at this festival meant to him, Schneider Paia - who lives in Samoa and attended the festival - said, “It’s a good time for all of the families of Samoa, especially to be able to witness and see, not only the local talent in Samoa, but also all of the other Samoans from overseas having their opportunity to perform here. It’s actually a blessing.”
Young girls dancing at Motherland Samoa | Alafaga for Pasefika Presence
And Schneider was right. It was a thoroughly fun time for the local community, as evidenced from the sights of young girls dancing together, boys from Vaipuna and Vaiala laughing together, wrapped under large Samoan flags made out of bandanas, and families enjoying the festival’s music from the comfort of their spread-out mats, with a surrounding feast of snacks and drinks.
But even beyond the local community, it was a great time for the Samoan community outside of Samoa as well. Just like the festival’s lineup was filled with Samoan artists from abroad, the crowd of over 10,000 people was also filled with Samoans from the US, New Zealand, Australia, and even neighboring American Samoa. In this way, the reuniting of our people was not only evident in the homecoming of our artists but also in the coming together of our people from all over into one space to celebrate our music and talent.
Day and night crowd at Motherland Samoa | Alafaga for Pasefika Presence
Even more than a grand coming together, the festival was a chance for the artists, especially those who have enjoyed success abroad, to come back home and give back to the village that has raised their ancestors, and in turn, them.
“You know what they say in Samoan, ‘Pe lele le toloa i fea e ma'au lava i le vai’. Wherever the waterfowl flies, it always returns to the water. [It’s important] that the artists come back to the motherland to show what they’ve gained from this world to give back to this country here in Samoa,” said Jeremy Hawkins, a fluent Samoan-speaking influencer who also goes by the name “Palagi Boi” .
When asked about what it means to him to be performing in the motherland, DJ Noiz said, “It’s truly a great blessing. We’re famous in Australia, New Zealand, and America, but it’s always the dream to come home and perform and give back to our community, where we were blessed from our parents that raised us. So for us to witness, it’s an honor and truly a dream come true.”
But perhaps Rellek Brown, eldest of the Brown siblings, said it best.
“As a Samoan living outside of Samoa, there’s no point going around saying, ‘I’m Samoan. I’m proud to be Samoan. 685 to the world!’ But then, you know, you’ve never performed here, never been here or done anything to give back. And so it’s a blessing to be here.” - Rellek Brown
Beyond Motherland: What’s Next?
Now that Motherland Samoa is over, many of the artists have resumed touring and their work on some exciting upcoming projects.
DJ Noiz shared that he was currently working on a new single called “Speechless” with Bina Butta and Donell Lewis. He also mentioned that, in addition to touring Papua New Guinea, Australia, and the US with his label, he’d be doing a show in London for the first time ever.
Kennyon Brown added that there will be a lot of music to come and that he and his siblings, along with DJ Noiz and Donell Lewis, were working on a new album together to come out in the next year or so.
Rellek Brown proudly announced that, amidst all the touring and new music projects, that he and his siblings would also be working on an official release of their grandfather’s song. He added, “We feel like it’s the right time in all of our careers to come together and collaborate on this…We’re actually really excited to make an official release of ‘Le Masina E’.”
Reinvigorated after finally achieving their dream of performing in their motherland, the festival’s artists hope to see more aspiring Samoan and Pasefika artists not be afraid to chase their dreams.
From left to right: Donell Lewis, Kennyon Brown, Bina Butta, Rellek Brown, DJ Noiz at Motherland Samoa | Future Now Music
“My advice to the youth is that if people tell you that you can’t do it, don’t listen to them. If people tell you to stop chasing your dreams - onosa’i a uso ma tuafafine, onosa’i ae uuna’i pea. Push ‘til your dreams come true. Hard work pays off, “ said DJ Noiz.
Kennyon Brown shared his own personal story of how he first started out in the music industry as a self taught musician, learning how to make music by using Google and watching tutorials on Youtube. He added, “Probably my best advice is that information is out there…It makes everything more worthwhile to do it yourself.”
Bina Butta offered more words of encouragement saying, “You can do anything, and if you are a person of faith, then with God, you can do even more…For me personally, I feel like my career didn’t really start or kick off until after I was married and started having kids. So you can be single, you can be young, you can be older, you can be a mom or dad, a single mom or dad - you can do it.”
But perhaps, if there is anything that should be taken away from Motherland Samoa, it is that the world needs to see more of our Pasefika talent unabashedly taking pride in their culture and their histories. And most importantly, we need to see more of our people return to the motherland, reunite together, and serve the village that has dealt a great hand in raising us.