It sounded so familiar. I had heard this song before. Not once or twice but so many times.
I knew where I heard it. They used to play it in the pubs back home in Fiji.
All this while, I thought the song was called Ooi E. I used to hum that whenever this song came on – “Ooi E la la la la la la…”
I didn’t understand a word of it but I loved it. It had this “feel good” feeling about it and in an instant, it could get you grooving.
I probably might even have tried some sort of funky moves to this song at the pubs, but I don’t really remember. I sometimes suffer from amnesia after visiting watering holes.
Poi E – The Story of Our Song is a documentary style movie about the 1980s super hit song Poi E, regarded by many as New Zealand’s unofficial anthem.
The song was composed by well-known New Zealand musician the late Dalvanius Prime with Maori language expert Ngoingoi Pewhairangi.
It was performed by the Patea Maori Club and remains the only song in Te Reo Maori to top the charts, shortly after its 1984 release.
Poi E dominated the charts for four weeks and was the biggest-selling single in New Zealand in its release year, beating top international hits such as Prince’s When Doves Cry and Tina Turner’s What’s Love Got To Do With It.
It has been in the Top 10 in New Zealand every decade for the past 30 years and in 2010, it reached number three after featuring in the New Zealand coming-of-age comedy-drama blockbuster, Boy.
Poi E – The Story of Our Song begins with renowned New Zealand director Taika Waititi giving pop and R&B singing sensation Stan Walker an insight to the origins of the song.
This is followed by a harmonious arrangement of old videos and more recent interviews with those who knew the man, Dalvanius, and the origins of the song.
It starts off with a brief introduction of Patea, the home of Poi E, followed by glimpses of Dalvanius’ early life as a musician.
“Dal,” as he was known to his friends, left Patea for greener pastures at quite a young age and had a flourishing career as a musician in Wellington and later in Australia.
Years later in early 1980s, he returned home to Patea amidst an employment crisis when the town’s main employer, the Patea Freezing Works, closed down.
When Dal’s mother passed away, her last words to him were in the New Zealand Maori language which the musician didn’t understand.
But this experience prompted him to compose Poi E with the help of linguist Ngoi and the members of the Patea Maori Club who sang the song.
The journey to the top wasn’t an easy one and the movie shows the hurdles Dal and his team faced to get the song the coverage it deserved.
Poi E – The Story of Our Song is a simple movie, but director/writer Tearepa Kahi makes it look unique with his distinctive touch, artfully arranging footage of the events which led to the creation of Poi E in a flawless fashion to give the story of the song real meaning.
It’s a song born out of love for Maori culture, the music and the struggle of the people of Patea.
It’s not easy to keep an audience captivated from the beginning to the end of a documentary styled movie, especially given the lengthy interviews that dominate many movies of the genre. But Kahi’s direction in maintaining that sublime flow will win the hearts of many.
Filmmakers normally choose to create biographical drama films by using actors to portray the role of the main characters on whom the movie is based. And sometimes the stories are a bit fabricated to give them more audience appeal.
But there’s nothing made up about Poi E – The Story of Our Song – instead, it’s as pure as the song.
It’s a fitting tribute to a man, who despite the lack of knowledge of his own language, gifted his people “their” song – a tune they can be proud of.
Poi E – The Story of Our Song is a story of a man coming back to his roots and creating a legacy that will inspire the coming generations to remain true to their culture and tradition.
As I left the cinema that night for my daily grind, the song Poi E kept ringing in my head.
Thirty-two years on, it still sounds fresh. One thing for sure, a song of such magnitude will never lose its fragrance.