Samoa’s Jazz Story goes international

Samoan jazz musicians performing with New Zealand trumpeter Dr. Edwina Thorne during the 2016 Samoana Musicology Forum in Apia

Samoa’s jazz story will be told at the global celebration of the International Jazz Day today 30 April in Melbourne, Australia.

The Samoana Jazz & Arts Festival Director, Siteine Peta Si’ulepa is attending the 8th annual global celebration on invitation by the prestigious Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz.

The Herbie Hancock Institute on behalf of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), co-ordinates the International Jazz Day (IJD) April 30 – an event that is celebrated annually in approximately 200 countries worldwide.

Siteine will join a select group of International Jazz Day organizers on the Cultural Exchange Panel International Jazz Day around the World for an exchange on “the significance of jazz in our respective communities and the potential of International Jazz Day to effect positive global change”

“The invitation came as a complete surprise. I am deeply honored to receive this invitation to join four others from around the globe for this historic exchange,” said Siteine.

“This is the perfect opportunity and platform to tell our Samoan Jazz story and in doing so promote our annual international Samoana Jazz & Arts Festival.” Siteine shared.

Siteine Peta Siulepa

“Each year since the establishment of the Samoana Jazz & Arts Festival in 2014 – we have consistently celebrated International Jazz Day April 30 in both Samoa and American Samoa and highlighted our unique jazz story – A Tale of 2Samoas – our untold story of Jazz. This story is not well known by our people – but it’s essentially about the history of jazz as a contemporary music art form and its significance and influence in shaping Samoan contemporary music including our Samoan music history.  The Samoan Jazz story also embeds Samoa’s pride of place as the Pacific’s birth-place of Jazz.”

Samoa’s Jazz Story
The Jazz story begins in Samoa where jazz bands first performed since the 1930’s. One of the first swing jazz bands, the South Seas Syncopators was headed by Moody Rivers who moved his family to Pago Pago, American Samoa after the United States became involved in WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941. Samoa was an isolated spot and was often by-passed by the USO shows

Moody Rivers’ daughter, the young 12 year old Mavis sang with the band (after school) entertaining the American Serviceman as they travelled around the various camps and on the warships anchored in the harbour.

Mavis soon earned the name of “The Singing Mascot” as she and her father’s band became the prime source of entertainment on the Island, singing the popular songs of the day learned from the American records brought over by the troops, or from the Voice of America sheet music. She became so popular that for some evenings the soldiers and marines brought her to the central telephone station so her voice was heard over the camp intercom lines reserved for official conferences.  This way her voice reached many more GI’s and marines based in the outlying areas.

Mavis Rivers

Mavis Rivers went on to make a successful career as an international jazz singer and recording artist in NZ and the United States with several “firsts” to her name – being the first Samoan to make records and becoming Samoa’s and the Pacific’s first Lady of Jazz and the first Pacific person to be nominated for a Grammy award in 1959 in the ‘Best new artist’ category. Mavis was also the first woman to record on Frank Sinatra’s recording label “Capitol Records.” Frank Sinatra says of Mavis Rivers – as having “the purest jazz voice” he has ever heard.

Last year Mavis Rivers’ memory was honored in a special Tribute Concert led by her Grammy Award winning son, La’auli Matt Catingub –at the Taumeasina Resort, Apia and the Lee Auditorium in Pago Pago as the main feature of the 2018 Samoana Jazz & Arts Festival. The Samoan story of Jazz was brought “to life” through the music performed by the Matt Catingub Sextet sharing the life and music of his late Mother.

Samoa will celebrate International Jazz Day April 30 with a short film presentation of the “Tale of 2Samoas – our Samoan Jazz Story to be shown to students at Pesega LDS Church College Music Classes – followed by a Jazz hosted evening at The Home Café with UNESCO, The Samoana Jazz & Arts Festival Board, musicians and friends of the festival.

International Jazz Day April 30 will be celebrated on this day by approximately 200 countries world-wide.

Mavis Rivers son, La’auli Matt Catingub performing during a tribute concert to her mother in Apia last April