Truth be told, I had no idea what to expect from Smokefree Pacifica Beats. From the name you could assume the acts would stick pretty closely to traditional Pacific musical styles, but by the time the metal band came on stage, all expectations had well and truly been subverted.

From the moment the first members of the audience trickled into their seats it was clear that the participants in Smokefree Pacifica Beats were less competitors than they were members of a community of music lovers from all over New Zealand. Friends and families of different bands introduced themselves to one another as they sat down and swapped dedicated travel stories.

Some people had been driving for two days to get to Auckland, while others had endured particularly brutal sleeping circumstances in the name of the people they were supporting. Rather than the jitter of nerves that usually fills the atmosphere on the night of a competition, there was a warmth you could expect from a family reunion.

The night started off with the acoustic duo acts, whose vocals began deceptively sweet before building into powerful, belting, soul-inspired tunes, and the occasional rap riff. The crowd exploded each time an artist broke out of his or her shell on stage, pouring whole hearts into lyrics that really meant something. As the night went on, the set-up time grew longer as more and more instruments were introduced to the stage.


Wahine Toa

A heavy influence for a lot of the performers was reggae; thick, heavy bass lines were often paired with brass sections of saxophones, trumpets, and even a couple of trombones, and people got up to dance as soon as the rhythms hit the stage. The audience let out a cry every time a subdued introduction burst into an unexpected explosion of bright, brassy tones and off-the-beat drumming.

Bands Fuzhun and Wahine Toa seemed to gather influences from ’60s pop bands, with soulful back-up singers and traditional dance styles mixed with playful finger snaps. One of the standout acts was Critical Damage, not least because they dressed in boiler suits and had a vocalist who doubled as a saxophone player.

The groovy beats of the performers were accompanied by powerful lyrics in Māori and Pacific languages. They often featured poi or even haka. Song themes ranged from the importance of protecting Aotearoa and preserving heritage, to stopping violence towards women and being true to yourself. It was unique to see electric guitars up on stage with taonga pūoro, but the performers blended the sounds so naturally that you would have thought they’d always been played together.

What would a concert be without a metal band singing in Te Reo Māori? When Alien Weaponry were introduced, a mosh pit materialised at the foot of the stage and bright lights from the phones in the audience lit up, ready to capture a once-in-a-lifetime performance on Snapchat. Later announced as the winners in the band category for Smokefree Pacifica Beats, Alien Weaponry used their heavy guitars and head banging to tell the story of land confiscation – not a sentence I ever expected to type!

The band played with such feverish passion that they held the attention of even the oldest grandparent in the venue, and it would be safe to say that a lot of people were converted into metal fans that night. When they were announced as the winners of the band category, Alien Weaponry dodged all metal stereotypes by participating in many a congratulatory hug, and I think we all fell a little bit in love with them.

The atmosphere at Smokefree Pacifica Beats was one humming with pride for Pacific culture and heritage, and a complete love of music. I didn’t know anyone in the audience when I sat down to watch the performance, but by the end of the night we were all one community who had been there to support the performers who got stage fright, to fight over free T-shirts thrown into the crowd, and to sit in front of the stage bobbing our heads together until the very last note.

Critical Damage in all their boiler suit glory.

Critical Damage in all their boiler suit glory.

Winners list

1st place band: Alien Weaponry, Bream Bay College and Otamatea High School
2nd place band: Critical Damage, Western Springs College
1st place solo/duo: Huia & Zaia, Correspondence School and Te Kapehu Whetu Teina
Smokefree Mana Wahine Award: Rose Campbell,Wairoa College
Mainz Scholarship for Outstanding Musicianship: Moses Taala the drummer from Nesian Vibes, Manurewa High School
Te Reo Award: Kurawaka, Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Kawakawa Mai Tawhiti in Hicks Bay, East Coast
New Zealand Music Commision Best Song Award: Who We Are by Huia and Zaia
Smokefree Best Vocals Award: Huia Shortland

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