Pacific artists unite against Covid-19

As Pacific communities in New Zealand address the impact of a Covid-19 resurgence, a star-studded concert aimed to unite the region against the pandemic will be broadcast free-to-air across the country this weekend.

The virtual concert is a first-of-its-kind in the Pacific and calls on leaders and citizens across the region to work together with the rest of the world in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last weekend, the United Nations in the Pacific brought together artists, heads of State, UN leaders and international celebrities - even royalty - to the event which was broadcast and streamed around the Pacific.

The "Pacific Unite: Saving Lives Together" concert also paid tribute to workers on the frontlines of the crisis - their efforts to prevent transmission and save lives.

Organiser and performer Inoke 'Knox' Kalounisiga said artists from the Solomons Islands, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand and the United States showcased their unique roots-rock songs at the United Nations-organised event.

The two-and-a-half-hour show featured contributions from Kalounisiga, Nem & Talei, Masti, Rako and Skillz from Fiji; Jah Boy from the Solomon Islands; Jay Hoad and Paulini from Australia; Juny B from Kiribati; Justin Wellington from Papua New Guinea; Kendal T from Palau; Mia Kami and the Tupou College Toloa Choir from Tonga; Poly Flavour and Brown Girl Woke from Samoa; Stan Antas, Yosh and Vanessa Quai from Vanuatu; Te Vaka and Tiki Taane from New Zealand; Tropikana Breeze from Tuvalu and pop star Julia Zahra and UN Messenger of Peace Yo-Yo Ma from the US.

Kalounisiga said it was a celebration of strength and solutions which are possible when the Pacific unites.

"Lots of us are out there fighting this Covid-19 on a daily basis, being exposed to it 24/7," he said. "Some have sadly passed away because of it while others have managed to come through it unscathed.

"But this is still an ongoing fight so we are here to celebrate the lives of those who have gone and to be a voice of encouragement for those who are still fighting."

Video messages of solidarity were delivered by Prince Charles, Tonga's Princess Salote Mafileó Pilolevu Tuita, Fiji national rugby sevens team, Oscar-winning actor and the UN's sustainable development goals advocate Forest Whitaker, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, UNAIDS Pacific Goodwill Ambassador Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, celebrity chef Robert Oliver; Director of the World Health Organisation Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Miss Pacific Islands Fonoifafo Nancy McFarland-Seumanu.

They all agreed the virtual concert provided a platform for the geographically remote Pacific region to connect.

They also reinforced the message that working together is the only way to overcome Covid-19.

Pacific actor and comedian, Tofiga Fepulea'i hosted the concert in character as his popular television persona 'Aunty Tala'.

Fepulea'i said the concert comprised primarily of artists from across the region who were accessible to audiences not only in the Pacific but around the world.

"I'm very proud to be part of this historic event," he said.

In his message, Palau's President Thomas Remengesau Jr said there was a need to build back better by creating a sustainable Pacific that's resilient to the impacts of climate change.

"This new normal should not be the same old story, but with face masks," he said. "The Pacific has been pushing for big changes in travel, in tourism, in fishing, in plastic use and in energy production.

"In a strange way, Covid-19 has cleared paths to those objectives. If we manage this challenge the right way, we can build a stronger system than we had before."

The UN's Pacific coordinator, Sanaka Samarasinha, said the concert was a call, through music and art, for continued solidarity across the region to combat the pandemic.

"Music brings people together in harmony, reminding us of our common bonds and all that is possible when we work together," said Te Vaka songwriter and vocalist Opetaia Foa'i.

The group performed one of its hit singles and a crowd favourite in the Pacific - Lakalaka.

"It is a privilege to be part of this special event, helping to unite people across the Pacific and around the world in the fight against Covid-19," Foa'i said.

Already among the most remote countries on earth, Pacific island states have seen their vital economic links weakened in recent months with the depletion of tourism, disruptions to international trade and a fall in remittances.

The concert was on radio and television networks in 12 Pacific island countries, as well as in Australia and New Zealand, throughout Asia and globally.

And it was captioned for people who are deaf or have hearing impairments.

"In the Pacific, we love our music and to hear from our leaders across the region, and our friends, on how to cope and be safe, and how to ensure that we are living in the new normal, I think it is timely," was the message from Pacific Disability Forum chief executive Setareki Macanawai.

Also watching on Facebook was Louisa Movick, a law student at the University of the South Pacific's Emalus Campus in Vanuatu.

Movick said she believed in the healing powers of music.

"In these difficult times, with so many mixed emotions in the air, it is good to take a moment, breathe and listen to the music of our Pacific region through these artists," she said.

The final act saw a moving performance of We Will Rise, a song written about the coronavirus pandemic in the Pacific and performed by Pasifika Voices and the International School Suva.

This weekend New Zealanders will get the opportunity to watch the concert - thanks to Oriana TV who will broadcast the event free-to-air on Sunday in a three-hour television special prime-time slot from 7.30pm on Kordia TV (Freeview Channel 200).