Sosefina Fuamoli & those special Samoan ways
Sosefina Fuamoli is a music writer, editor, radio host and publicist, based in Melbourne, Australia. She has long been a supporter of Australian music, emerging artists and a more diverse music culture. Sosefina has profiled some of the world’s biggest artists and music festivals in the US, Europe and the UK, and led her to write for publications including Rolling Stone Australia, Red Bull Music, the AU Review, The Big Issue, and many more.
We chat with Sosefina to ask her about life growing up in a cross cultural family, experiences that have inspired her, and her love of traditional tattoos...
She's even made us a special "Island Life" playlist for summer... What a legend! Listen and enjoy NOW!
Can you tell me a bit about your background and connection to the Pacific?
My dad is Samoan, so I grew up with a Samoan father and an Australian mother. My mum has always had a bit of an affinity with the Pacific and my parents met in New Zealand. They moved back to Australia just before I was born, and we’ve been based here for the last 30 or so years.
All of my teenage years were spent living up in the Northern Territory where we lived for ten years. There was such a big Pacifica community there, so it wasn’t just Samoans. You had Papua New Guineans, you had Fijians, you had a lot of Maoris living up there, a lot of Tongans, but then you also had a lot of Greeks too and a big Asian community and then of course a massive Indigenous community.
During that time in the NT, I got into dancing, particularly Polynesian and contemporary dancing. Through that company I was able to learn more about my own culture and also about other cultures as well. I was able to incorporate those into my performances and, looking back on it as an adult, that was really crucial, it was exposure that I don’t think I would have had if we’d continued to live in South Australia.
With the dance company I was able to tour to New Zealand a few times and travel to Samoa which was awesome for me because at that point, I’d never been before, so connecting with family there and pursuing my own personal journey, finding out more about that side was really important.
How was it growing up Samoan in Australia?
A lot of us mixed race kids can struggle if we look particularly ethnic but haven’t been brought up in a strong presence of that culture. It can be really hard to navigate that and where you fit in. In my case I was never as Samoan as the Samoans who lived over there because I couldn’t speak the language fluently, yet I looked like full-blooded Samoan. Then, living in Australia, I looked too different to be assimilated with the white Australian culture that I was brought up in.
I wasn’t ashamed of it, but it was definitely something I didn’t know how to represent properly when I was a kid. When I started performing and started spending time around people who knew how to nurture and support Pacific culture a bit more, things changed. I can thank my mum for that, she really pushed for me to have that connection with culture.
How do you think your experiences have shaped who you are today?
It’s very important for me to always be learning and to of be proud of where I’m from. It’s important for me to educate people as well; I’ve actually got some friends now who’ll tell me that I’m the first Samoan that they’ve ever me. Or, maybe they don’t really know much about the Pacific, even just in terms of geography or where the different islands sit.
It’s not like I expect people to know about the Pacific, but sometimes it is a little bit surprising when they don’t because, obviously I’m in my own bubble of knowing these things. So, I kind of take those moments, those teachable ones, to pass on some knowledge.
Also, I’ve always been the champion of working with people from different backgrounds because of my upbringing. Especially in the media landscape, just knowing where things need to be picked up and put in terms of diversity and in terms of adequate representation of people from different backgrounds.
I feel like that’s definitely stemmed from those experiences that I had growing up. I work a lot in the Hip Hop and R&B scene as well as in the quote-unquote “Indie Mainstream”, so, working with a lot of younger artists who are maybe going through those stages that I went through, even if it’s in a small way, just making it a little bit easier for them to find their spaces, that’s really important to me.
How has your upbringing informed your aesthetic, as in, how do you express your connection to the Pacific?
Historically, people from the Pacific islands - we’re storytellers. That’s how new islands were founded, that’s how people’s lineages were passed down and that’s how people learned about one another. Being able to work in the space of a modern-day storyteller whether it’s in the music or in the arts, is really important to me.
Also, I started getting tattooed when I was just turning 18. Some of them were done traditionally and I feel like that’s made the connection stronger, although they’ve all been unique processes in themselves.
Getting the Malu which is the traditional tattoos that I have down my leg, that was definitely the biggest one for me. I mean, it was very painful, but it was also very emotionally draining just because of the amount of significance and cultural weight that that particular tattoo has behind it.
I didn’t know that I’d be as affected by it as I was until I was lying there getting it. Traditionally it was boys who got it and it was a very long process. It was potentially showing that they were becoming men and that they could do all the manly things in protecting the village and their family. If they couldn’t go through with it then sometimes that would mean being ostracised from their village.
In terms of women getting it done it represents strength and it also represents strength within your family and carrying on your lineage. So, it was important for me to get it.
There hadn’t been a woman in my dad’s family who had this tattoo done for two generations. I think it was his grandmother who was the last one to have it done. In the islands, particularly in Samoa when colonialism was taking affect and western religion was becoming the main way of living, the Catholic missionaries stamped out a lot of the traditional practises, one of them tattooing.
The practise of tattooing was lost for many years, especially for women. It’s started to make a bit of a comeback now but it’s a touchy subject if you happen to be from a religious family. As I found out, my dad’s family is actually quite religious – but, they were super proud that I’d gotten it done and gotten it done in the traditional way.
There’s a lot of traditional rules around the tattoos. It’s not something that’s meant to be shown off, its supposed to be taken care of and hidden. Obviously, I’m not still living in those ancient times, but I’m not flaunting it around. When it is visible though, I am happy to talk about it, a lot of people ask questions about it because the design is quite intricate. It’s definitely a proud expression I have of my Pacific culture.
What do you love the most about Pacific Culture?
I love the fact that we’re a friendly people, just super welcoming and super kind to everybody and it doesn’t matter where you’re from you know. You could be out somewhere, and you see a Samoan, and this goes for most islanders as well, there’s just an automatic sense of kinship there.
You’re automatically welcomed into the fold. I feel like that’s beautiful, that sense of community. I feel like now more than ever we need that especially with how everything has been turned upside down.
Thank you so much! Last question: What’s your super-power?
You know, I’ve never really thought about that before, but I think one of the abilities I like to pride myself on is being able to have a pretty good meter for reading people.
Whether that’s personally or creatively, I always seem to surround myself with people who I know are likeminded but also who I can be learning from and who can be learning from me. I feel like that’s really important, having that two-way street of communication.
So, yeah, I’d say just the ability to constantly be meeting people and drawing them into my circle and establishing those really strong relationships.
SHOP SOSEFINA'S LOOKS!
Top photo ~ Sandrin Tunic 'Island Stone' ~ BUY NOW!
Bottom photos ~ Sundar Dress 'Wild Hibiscus' ~ BUY NOW!
LISTEN TO SOSEFINA'S SUMMER MIX!!