When a person gives 100% in a task, they give it their all and they do it with no question. But when you’re born in Western Samoa and given a special name passed down from a family member, then there’s more meaning and purpose to giving your all. Urban islander and music artist/songwriter Selau has done it all. She’s had a number one hit on the radio and toured with the west coast’s top Bay area artists. She is grounded, she is focused, and she is hard working.
TWID: Who is Selau and is that your real name?
Selau: Selau is my real name. I wish I could take credit for it, but that is my mom and dad. I was born in Western Samoa. The name Selau is actually my grandma’s name. I think all Samoans know that “Selau” means “one hundred”. My grandmother was born on the 100th year of when the gospel came to Samoa so they named her 100, and when I was born, they named me after my grandmother. As an artist, I’ve been asked to change my name in the past to something that would be easy to pronounce but for me, it was important to keep Selau because I think especially being Polynesian and Samoan people, they can identify with the name and say, ‘Yeah that’s a Samoan girl.’So, as soon as you hear it, you have to know it’s Samoan and that’s why it was important for me and for people to know right away that I’m Samoan. My name stands for so many things. I’m 100% real. I write all my music. I keep it 100.
TWID: Where are you from?
Selau: When my family left Samoa, we moved to Hawaii then we moved to California. When people ask me where I’m from or ‘What city do you claim?’, there’s no one city that I could claim because we moved around a lot. Growing up, every year we either moved once or twice. I have lived in every city in the Bay area (San Francisco) so it’s hard for me to claim one city. I have roots everywhere but I really grew up in the Bay.
TWID: How did you get into music and singing?
Selau: It was always in my family. A lot of people don’t know but my dad is a singer. He has still to this day a Reggae band and they travel all around Hawaii. So, it was a given. For me, it wasn’t anything to figure out. I grew up watching him and my uncles in our garage playing music and practicing and practicing for days. I just always remember being at the studio or being at band practice with my dad. I just never remember not ever having music in my life. We had a studio in my house growing up. We always had instruments around growing up. It was deeply rooted in me already. And a lot of people don’t know that my mom was a professional hula dancer so she’s travelled all over the world. So, with my mom being a professional dancer and my dad being a singer, I have been blessed to have both.
TWID: How did your career get started?
Selau: My big break was in 2003. Keek Da Sneak and I did a song on his album at the time called Kopium. Still one of the best independents in the Bay area til this day. One thing that a lot of people don’t know about me is that, more than a singer, I’m a writer. When Keek Da Sneak needed a hook for his song, I came up with the hook; they all went crazy. It was my first big break. I was being interviewed by 106.1 KMEL and everybody who knew that hook. I remember meeting E-40 too and B-Legit and they were tripping out on me. After working with Keek Da Sneak, it opened the doors to working with other Hip-Hop artists and clientele in the Bay area. I’ve done 6 hooks with the team. I’ve done 8 hooks with Messy Marv. I had the chance to tour and open up for E-40. The Keek song really opened a lot of doors for me, but I still wanted one of my own solo songs so, finally in 2006/2007 I had my own solo song, and it featured Goldie Gold and the Federation. Honestly, I didn’t know my song was gonna blow up the way it did. It was crazy because I got labeled as the hyphy person. I have a catalog of 1,000 songs that I’ve written. I have only one hyphy song and that was it. And it just ended up becoming number one on the radio. When you get a number one song on several radio stations in rotation, it makes every label look at you and want you. It was funny and crazy at the same time to hear presidents of labels and A&R directors calling me. When I heard myself on the radio for the first time, I pulled over and I got out and started jumping up and down. If you can prove media sound scan numbers to people, that speaks money to them. There was a time when there was so many labels and I wasn’t sure which one to choose or which direction I should go with. It was overwhelming.
TWID: What are you currently working on now?
Selau: I’m a songwriter out here in Atlanta and I work with some of the biggest music producers, and I am honestly overwhelmed with the producers that I work with. I was featured last quarter in BMI’s magazine, as one of the top songwriters to look for in music. Everyone is under BMI – Lil Wayne, [the late] Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga – and everybody is under that umbrella to get their royalty checks and so forth. I wake up every day thinking I am blessed. There’s not a lot of people who can wake up every morning and say I do what I love. I grew up as a little girl always loving music, and even as a grown woman, I’m still doing music and getting paid. It’s a great feeling and a great accomplishment. I share things with my father and he’s amazed at where I’m at today and I just feel so blessed.
Today I am working on a lot of major artists’ records right now and what that is allowing me to do right now is stack money and provide a lot of other opportunities for other people. So, I do have other young artists right now who I believe in, who I see that spark in, that I can see and help see their dreams come true as well. Because it’s hard when you’re a young artist and you’re grinding. There’s more shady people in this music industry than there is good people. So, for me I wish someone had taken me under their wings and showed me the right path. So, I’m doing what I would’ve wanted somebody else to do to me when I was younger. I have two female artists and a male artist that I’m gonna be backing and the male artist is Samoan and one of the female artists is Hawaiian.
TWID: Have you ever struggled within yourself to make a decision that you knew wasn’t going to be easy?
Selau: A friend of mine who is a songwriter by the name of JQ wrote Ciara’s “Like a Boy”, and Beyonce’s “Best Thing I Never Had”. He’s written some really big hits. He got to that point too where he wanted to be a singer. But the thing is, sometimes when you go the label route, they’ll be like, ’We love your songs, but we don’t love you,’ and that’s a hard reality. It’s really hard when you’re dreaming about the person singing your song, then to hear the labels say, ‘We want your song but we don’t want you.’ Then my friend JQ shares with me there’s that fork in the road when you’re a singer/songwriter where a label will say that to you, and you have to decide, do I want to be famous and be a singer or do I want to be rich and be the person in the background who writes all those hit songs for those singers. And he broke it down for me and it helped me make that decision and it was really what I was going through at that time. So, the dream for me was to always hear people singing my songs and that dream is still alive to this very day. It may not be me in the spotlight and in the music videos, but it’s definitely my words. And when I see people singing my words and I’m at a stop light, and they are getting down to my words, it’s the most blessed and rewarding feeling that I’ve experienced.
TWID: How does your heritage and culture play a role in your music creativity?
Selau: It’s not anything you’re trying to be; it’s the definition of who you already are. Whatever genre I am writing for, me being a Samoan defines me. And it helps when I am making my music. In the Polynesian culture, singing and dancing is so big and a very big part of who we are. It’s already embedded in your roots to do that. Everything that I do, it just comes naturally to me. So, for music, when I feel the music, and I love it, the music just comes right out of me especially when I’m not even trying. But out here in Atlanta, they don’t know what Polynesian is, or they’ve never heard of it. It’s funny because we are known for our athletic ability and our physical strength, but I love being able to share a different side to our people and show that we are also creative people and passionate people. By nature, Polynesians are a nice people and it’s gotten me further than a selfish snobby attitude would. It has gotten me to where I am able to have stability in my life now.
Selau has not only broken barriers down for herself but has opened the door for Urban Island female artists here in the states. As a young girl migrating from Western Samoa, she has sung her way to the top and has positioned herself as one of the most sought-after, up-and-coming songwriters in the music industry. Being in Atlanta where the music industry is most prevalent today, Selau works with top tier music artists that sing her lyrics and to her, it’s more rewarding to listen to the masses hum and sing what she wrote even if sung by another artist. Her journey has been inspiring and if there’s one thing you’ll learn from Selau, it is to put in the work and give it a 100%, and that is WhatItDo.
-Article Written by: Elizabeth Lavulo
*Photos courtesy of Selau
*YouTube video courtesy of soccerhooligan07