Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Samoan identity through music composition: The agony of asking

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posted on 2021-12-08, 02:12 authored by Opeloge Ah Sam

In this thesis, Samoan music and identity are woven together and expressed simultaneously through new composition, critical reflection, and performance. This thesis explores creative practice in both Samoa and New Zealand, and it engages with critical insights in order to produce a body of new creative work in music. Through these efforts, this thesis contributes a new original understanding for how to articulate Samoan identity in current musical composition.  In Samoa, cultural practices exist alongside global influences. These are found in song, language, contemporary music and dance in a variety of social contexts, and it is in this space of crossing boundaries where I explore my own identity as a Samoan-born, New Zealand composer, and a broader Samoan communal identity. The two contexts of my journey in Samoa and New Zealand offer sustained influences on my compositions both as a professional musician and educator. They provide very different expectations and cultures that I have negotiated, and have formed the basis of my creative work in this thesis. Adapting the Pasifika-centred framework of Epeli Hau’ofa in “Our Sea of Islands” (1993), in this thesis I provide a personal blueprint for a Samoan interpretation of creative practice in music, based on close readings and interpretations of concepts in new music composition.  Through this work I deconstruct my own colonial past to rise above cultural stereotypes, and instead move towards finding connections with local-based styles and values of music. In doing so, my creative output offers an original voice as a composer that is firmly based in Samoan realities, just as it extends to experiences and with a diversity of musical practices. Through my creative work I offer unique musical spaces and mediums that expresses my Samoan identity, in both music and culture. In this way, new composition is a means of navigating and negotiating musical creativity.  As I have discovered, I am not the only one moving in and out of these contexts as a Samoan musician and composer. I have worked together, alongside other Samoan composers such as Natalia Mann (based in Queensland, Australia), Metitilani Alo (based in Dunedin, New Zealand), Igelese Ete (based in Fiji) and Maori artists such as Riqi Harawira (based in Kaitaia, New Zealand) and artist BJ Natanahira (based in Kaitaia) sharing ideas and engaging in discussions around process of creativity and identity.  In creating our own musical voices, we also take control of the forms and shapes used to express our identities musically and culturally. As Thomas Turino points out in Music as Social Life (2008) this is about navigating and negotiating our identity according to the spaces we move within, and the music we associate with through composition and performance.  This is that journey.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970119 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of the Creative Arts and Writing

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

New Zealand School of Music


Diettrich, Brian; Psathas, John