Albert Einstein once said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.” Voka Mataele can attest to that very saying.
For over ten years, Mataele has been a part of the Reggae group, Kontiki. The band started up in Whittier, CA and is primarily made up of Mataele’s siblings and close relatives who are all Tongan. As the band’s lead vocalist and guitarist, Mataele’s voice can be compared to Reggae-great Maxi Priest. Mataele helped write and produce most of the songs on their first album Stand Tall. The title of the album had significant meaning to Kontiki band members – it was a favorite phrase used by their older brother, Loma, who, unfortunately, was killed in South Central in 1996.
Stand Tall came out in 2003 and saw immediate success. Their songs received heavy airplay by Island radio stations. The following year, Kontiki won ‘Best Reggae Album’ at the Hawaiian Music Awards. “It was awesome!” exclaimed Mataele. “We weren’t expecting any kind of award. We were just trying to get any kind of accolade to build our foundation and get some kind of acceptance.” Just winning the award helped to push the band as a legitimate contender in Island music. “People saw us as serious artists rather than just [someone] throwing a CD out there.”
In 2008, Kontiki came out with their sophomore album Free Again. With ten original songs and a tribute to three classic hits, Mataele and his band mates were well on their way to another successful album. The outcome, however, could not have been any more different. In fact, it was completely the opposite. What happened?
Among many factors that could explain why Free Again did not succeed like Stand Tall, Mataele suggests the band’s attempt to go more mainstream was part of the issue. “With the second album, we wanted to cross over to go more mainstream. We were trying to make our music sound more commercial and reach a [bigger] audience other than just the Polynesians. That’s why we did those cover songs on this album. We were trying to progress, trying to take it to another level.” Mataele also explains that the band’s lack of marketing strategies was another reason why the sophomore album did not go as planned. “I think that’s where we messed up,” says Mataele. “Not really knowing how to market the album. These up and coming bands don’t know that as much as you put in to actually putting the album together, you have to put just as much time and money into marketing. That was something that I learned and I know now.”
Consider the lesson learned, experience had, and knowledge gained. It’s been two years since Free Again was released. Since then, the members of Kontiki have decided to “chill out” for a bit and focus more on their individual families and kids. They do plan on working to get another album out by the end of this year or early 2012.
Meanwhile, Mataele has been working on his own musical endeavors. What many people do not know about Voka Mataele is his extensive background with Nonosina, a Polynesian dance group from Anaheim, CA. Mataele is an essential contributor to the Nonosina sound overall; their music is so infectious they’ll make anyone stand up and dance along. He is also a songwriter who learned to strengthen his talent through his father, Lucky, who was also a composer. Music composition is a prevailing talent that has always been in the Mataele family. He is so unique to Urban Island music because he can capture the indigenous Polynesian sound and fuse it with urban influences. “I’ve actually been doing some things with Reggae music and will have something out by the end of this year.” Be on the lookout for him.
Experiences, whether good or bad, help us gain wisdom and knowledge to continue on through life. Voka Mataele has years of knowledge and experience within the music industry that will undoubtedly help him with the future of Kontiki and his solo career. To hear Mataele’s vocals, check out both Kontiki albums, available on iTunes and MySpace and sold at Island music stores.
Article Written By: Pesi Kava