From Fiji Times Online (3 September 2015)

Fuata's musical dream run

by Felix Chaudhary

Ngaire Fuata

IN 1990, Ngaire Fuata recorded and released To Sir With Love. Her rendition of Scottish pop star Lulu's 1967 smash hit took the number one spot on the New Zealand charts for six weeks.

The achievement made Ngaire go down in the annals of music history as the first person of Rotuman descent to score a major hit single.

The then 23-year-old British-born lass was working at TVNZ's Maori & Pacific Program when she recorded the single which featured on her self-titled debut album released the same year.

"I'd always enjoyed singing," the now New Zealand resident shared.

"When I moved to Auckland, I started singing in a band with some friends, just backing vocals at the time, and then started doing a couple of lead numbers."

During this time, one of the members of renowned Kiwi group Ardijah, Simon Lynch and a friend, Murray Cammick, started a record label called Southside Records.

The duo was looking at providing Kiwis with a soul and RnB music label because at the time New Zealand music was dominated by rock and indie or alternative rock.

"Simon was looking for a singer to do a remake of To Sir With Love to his arrangement," Ngaire said.

"They asked me and I said 'why not'. We never really thought it would end up being as big as it was at the time. I think New Zealand was ready for a local artist to do something different and that's what we offered."

Son of A Preacher Man, another song that made the charts for Ngaire, was one of Murray Cammick's favourites and he suggested the song when the production team waslooking at tracks for the album.

"I'm a fan of Dusty Springfield and it was fun to be able to give a '90s remix to her classic song," the 48-year-old said.

Ngaire's debut album shot to the top of the charts and paved the way for other non-rock acts to flood the mainstream market.

She became one of the most sought after artists on the live music scene and from 1990 to 1996, Ngaire performed alongside a number of international music stars.

"I had so many highlights during this time. Performing support for Beats International, The Rockmelons, Snap, travelling to Fiji and performing for the first time in January 1993 just after Cyclone Kina, performing at numerous festivals here in NZ and meeting some lovely people along the way."

However, her dream run on the music scene came to an end after she became disillusioned with the industry at the time.

After a sterling career and the release of one mega-hit album and nine singles, Ngaire decided to call it a day.

"I've worked in television since 1988 so it was always going to be a natural progression — I never thought I'd end up being the Producer of Tagata Pasifika! I'd lost a bit of faith in the music industry and it's a tough one to be in. You have to really go overseas to be successful."

Nowadays, Ngaire produces two of the Pacific's most watched programs, Tagata Pasifika and the NZ Pacific Music Awards.

"I'd love to do cameo or guest spots and I still enjoy music and singing but I have no real desire to pursue it. I've produced the television coverage of the NZ Pacific Music Awards for the last five years and my contribution to music is now more on that side — helping promote our artists through the show — and ensuring that there are plenty of Pacific artists in the New Zealand music scene.

"There weren't many Pacific recording artists when I was doing recording and there certainly wasn't a Pacific Music Awards so it's great to see how it's evolved here in New Zealand."

Born to a Dutch mother and Rotuman father, the England-born star now calls New Zealand home.

Despite travelling widely to visit relatives in the Netherlands in her younger years, the tales her late father, Espasio Fuata, told her about Rotuma captured her imagination.

She yearned to visit the exotic islands that he had spoken at length about.

Ngaire said although Espasio told them where Rotuma was, it always seemed like a faraway place that was difficult to get to.

"Dad always said he came from the most beautiful island in the Pacific, with gorgeous beaches and the sweetest oranges — he always made it sound unique and special.

Espasio found it difficult to explain to people where Rotuma was and often passed his family off as Kiwis because it was easier.

"It's very vague. I think we knew we were Rotuman before we left England but we didn't quite understand. I was only 6 at the time. We knew of our Dutch heritage because we visited Amsterdam often and my Oma and uncles were known to us.

"It was definitely understood that we were Rotuman after a while when we were in New Zealand as we knew we weren't Maori.

"I remember dad taking us to the South Pacific Arts Festival in Rotorua in 1976 and meeting a Rotuman group that performed there. We learnt a song and I can still remember it!"

Espasio met Ngaire's mother, Marion while he was studying to become a Catholic priest in London in the '60s.

Marion was a member of the Hawaii Club in Amsterdam and when she moved to London, she met the Tuakoi native while looking for people of Pacific island origin.

They married and moved to New Zealand in the early '70s.

In 2011, Ngaire travelled to Rotuma with her then eight-year-old daughter, Ruby, for the first time.

She documented their journey in an emotional and intimate feature film titled Salat se Rotuma or Passage to Rotuma which aired in New Zealand and is available for viewing on You Tube.

She described the experience as life changing.

"I had been to Fiji but never Rotuma and as dad got more and more unwell, I really wanted to get there. Going there in 2011 has been a highlight of my life and career."

The duo arrived at the height of the festive season and the Rotuman tradition of fara.

"Ruby and I went back in September and October 2013 for a week and it was good to see the island outside of the festive season.

"I visited the high school and spoke and sang to the students and Ruby made a little clip for thecoconet.tv."

Ruby has taken on some of her mother's musical genes. She plays the piano, guitar, ukelele and is learning the saxophone.

Who knows, she could develop into another Pacific Island star in the future.