Anna Tukuitoga: Breaking the mould of country music in NZ
The town of Paeroa is well-known for a local brand of fizzy drink, but it’s also home for an up-and-coming Pacific Islands country music singer.
Her name is Anna Tukuitoga, and she says singing is a talent she discovered at a very early age.
“I think I was 3 years old, 3 or 4,” Anna says.
“My babysitter… I was at her house, and her grandchildren were singing this song once and I kind of picked up the tune and I started singing along to it.
“And my babysitter heard me and she was like, ‘Can you sing for me?'”
Anna and those grandchildren remained good friends and later formed a group called ‘The Girls’. They then started singing at country music events throughout the North Island. Anna remembers that their first event was at the Redstar Junior and Intermediate Country Music Awards in Matamata in 2010.
“Three years later I ended up singing solo, competing in a lot of country music awards around New Zealand,” Anna says.
“And recently I got the Matamata-Piako Overall Intermediate Winner, so I’m off to Entertainer of the Year in October in Taupo.”
At just 17, Anna has already done and achieved so much in such a short time. Her talent was recognised last year when she was made the New Zealand Country Music Association Youth Ambassador — a role she initially didn’t expect.
“My goal is to influence young people to come into country because country music is kind of struggling with youth numbers at the moment,” she says.
“What I want to do is just push Polynesian people, mostly, to step out of their comfort zone and do something different, because country’s not just cowboys and hats and everything; there’s more to just country music.”
Even though country music has taken her far, Anna’s already faced a few challenges. One of the biggest is to break down the stereotypes around county music.
“Most people know that I am a performer, singer-songwriter, but not necessarily a country music singer-songwriter.
“In this society, I guess it’s just a bit weird. But I think if you really put your mind into something and you want to step out of that comfort zone, you’ll really enjoy it.”
Even with the challenges, Anna says she’s constantly inspired by seeing other Pacific people, especially women, thrive in the genre.
“So there was this girl at one of the Entertainer of the Year Awards, her name was Khona Va’aga Gray. She was a Polynesian Samoan girl and I was like ‘OMG’.
“She had a banjo she was yodelling and I was, like, blown away… Like woah, there’s another one like me doing something completely different.
“When I heard her… I was like, ‘You know what? I wanna do that too. I’m gonna do it!’”
Anna hopes to inspire other Pacific Islanders, especially teenagers, to step out of their comfort zones and try country music.
“If you come and completely step out of your comfort zone, then you’ll find that you might actually like it. I want to really push for that, because we need youth in country music,” Anna says.
“And the point of the youth ambassador role is to influence, and that’s what I want to do.”
By Hanalei Foliaki