Soul diva Bella Kalolo and ac­tors Jen­nifer Ward-Lealand and Emily Camp­bell.

Bella Kalolo — Soul diva

Metro Magazine NZ - - Contents - TEXT — GARY STEEL / PHO­TOG­RA­PHY — STEPHEN LANG­DON

Bella Kalolo lets off the lat­est in a long line of vol­canic chuck­les. I’ve just told her that my four-year-old’s ver­dict is that “she sings funny”. We both agree the child needs to be res­cued from the evil clutches of Frozen fan­dom and given a crash course in soul.

“I nearly had to sing ‘Let It Go’ once!” she ad­mits. “I’m so glad I didn’t have to!”

We both agree, too, that Moana is a much bet­ter film, with much bet­ter role mod­els, and a story that has some rel­e­vance to Pasi­fika. It’s Auck­land’s sta­tus as the most pop­u­lous ag­glom­er­a­tion of Poly­ne­sian peo­ples that in­di­rectly brings us to­gether to­day, for Kalolo is one of the star at­trac­tions of an event ex­plor­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties of an Auck­land set 30 years into the fu­ture.

The Guer­rilla Col­lec­tion, a free fes­ti­val cre­ated and cu­rated by the ter­mi­nally hip dance com­pany Black Grace, takes the form of many 30-minute “move­ment pieces” over three days, and it turns out that Kalolo is in­volved with two of them. And while she’s sworn to se­crecy about specifics, she says that one of them is a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Paul Faga­malo and the other with Black Grace founder Neil Ieremia.

Thirty years from now, says Kalolo, “I’d like to think that ev­ery­one’s still in­volved in the cul­ture in some way, shape or form. I’d love to think that if the chil­dren in the fu­ture don’t go to church, they’ll still go round to mum and dad’s and have a feast af­ter church, which is the [tra­di­tional] clos­ing of the week and the open­ing of the next week. I guess it’s just see­ing what traces we end up leav­ing be­hind, whether it be a word spo­ken to some­one or a song that’s been recorded.”

Kalolo, whose gutsy voice beamed out au­thor­i­ta­tively from two im­pres­sive al­bums of retro soul and funk in 2009 and 2013 re­spec­tively, has un­sur­pris­ingly — given her re­lent­less en­ergy and in­cred­i­ble pipes — be­come some­thing of a go-to girl on the fes­ti­val and show cir­cuits over the past decade. Think: sub­stan­tial roles in stage pro­duc­tions like Hair and The Lion King, the Pink Floyd Ex­pe­ri­ence and an Aretha Franklin trib­ute along with An­nie Crum­mer and Aaradhna that fea­tured in last year’s Auck­land Arts Fes­ti­val. In fact, if she had a Wikipedia en­try (and why doesn’t she?) it would be packed with sur­pris­ing de­tail, like col­lab­o­ra­tions and guest spots with ev­ery­one from Dave Dob­byn to Don McGlashan (she sang the orig­i­nal ver­sion of the hit “Bathe in the River” be­fore Hol­lie Smith got her teeth into it), and even a singing date with soul leg­end Chaka Khan. She’s per­formed at Glas­ton­bury with Fat Freddy’s Drop and has backup bands at the ready in both Auck­land and Welling­ton that she com­bines for in­ter­na­tional dates, like a re­cent mu­sic fes­ti­val in Raro­tonga. As we speak, she’s in the last throes of the lat­est World of Wear­able Art Awards in Welling­ton.

Born in Christchur­ch and now based in Mt Roskill, Kalolo was raised Samoan but has mixed blood (Samoan/ Ton­gan/Māori), and she’s just sent her DNA off to an­ces­ to find out if the ru­mours that her bi­o­log­i­cal dad was part-Chi­nese have legs. We dis­cuss Win­ston Peters’ re­cent com­ments about tough­en­ing im­mi­gra­tion rules around refugees to have them tac­itly ac­cept “the Kiwi way of life”, and what that means, ex­actly. “You go spend a week in Ōtāhuhu and then you know what the Kiwi way of life is, be­cause it’s heav­ily Poly­ne­sian out there!”

Kalolo, though, is a re­lent­lessly pos­i­tive in­di­vid­ual who says that joy is a key com­po­nent of her life — “It’ s just an in­nate thing that I’ve never been with­out, some­thing I was born into” — and likes to think she can prise joy out of even the prick­li­est of cus­tomers.

As for that in­ter­rupted record­ing ca­reer, she blames it on the nails. “What’s re­ally an­noy­ing is be­cause I have long nails to do shows all the time I haven’t been able to play my gui­tar,” and gui­tar is a key com­po­si­tional tool. Hav­ing said that, she’ll be “drop­ping sev­eral sum­mer jams” over the next few months that will be just a lit­tle dif­fer­ent from the overtly retro-soul feel of her two al­bums.

If Bella Kalolo had a Wikipedia en­try (and why doesn’t she?) it would be packed with sur­pris­ing de­tail, like col­lab­o­ra­tions and guest spots with ev­ery­one from Dave Dob­byn to Don McGlashan, and even a singing date with soul leg­end Chaka Khan.


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