Joel Havea is a natural singer and skilled songwriter combining his unique guitar playing with a wide musical range. He released his debut album in 2012 and has been moving from strength to strength since then. His latest records Ki ‘a Lavaka delves into the music of his country of birth and takes a different turn from previous releases. We sat down with Joel Havea (JH) to talk about his new album, his music and much more!
OSR: Have you always wanted to be a musician?
JH: I’ve always loved writing songs and playing music, but as a career, I came to it relatively late. I went to university in Melbourne, got a double degree and worked as an engineer for several years. I released my debut album in 2012 and it’s been full steam ahead since then.
OSR: Your new album Ki ‘a Lavaka is different to your previous releases, can you tell us a bit more about it?
JH: Ki ‘a Lavaka is definitely my most personal and meaningful album to date. In a way, it is a coming home record for me. For the first time, some of the songs contain music from Tonga (a tropical island Kingdom in Polynesia), where I was born and where my father is from.
This music was, of course, a part of my upbringing in Melbourne but I had never really delved into it when I was living in Australia. Now I’ve been based in Hamburg, Germany for the last 12 years and this time away has given me a new perspective and appreciation of where I’ve come from. It felt like the time was right and necessary to go back to my roots on this album.
OSR: What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome when creating this album?
JH: Making any album is a labour of love and that was definitely the case for this record! On a personal note, I went through some really hard times during the writing process and the lyrics and themes reflect that.
It was also a challenge to integrate the Tongan influences into the songs, whilst both staying true to the traditional music and my own style.
OSR: What drew you to your preferred genre?
JH: That’s an interesting question as my genre is very hard to define. I call it ‘South Sea Soul’, but my music contains elements from everything to grunge, funk, blues, folk and reggae. Then when you add my Hamburg-based trio to the mix (Leo Lazar: Drums and Arnd Geise: Bass); they bring their own rock, fusion and jazz flavour to the music, which is where things start to get really interesting! I guess many of these varied influences can be attributed to my diverse cultural background and extensive world travel.
OSR: Having toured extensively, is there a concert that stands out in your mind? If so, why?
JH: I performed with my trio at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2018, which was an incredible show. We played to a full house at the Music in the Park Stage as the sun was setting, looking out from the stage at lake Geneva on the left and the Montreux Rose vineyards up on the right. Later that night was Quincy Jones 85th Birthday Celebration and he has personally curated the jam session at the jazz café featuring world-class musicians from all over the world. Definitely a highlight!
OSR: What is your favourite song to perform from your new album and back catalogue?
JH: From the new album, I really enjoy singing the song ‘ ‘Uluaki Fepaki‘, which was written by my great Uncle Manoa Havea. Most people don’t even know where Tonga is, or have let alone heard a Tongan song before and I like being able to show an audience something they’ve never heard.
From my back catalogue: I love playing the song ‘Settle‘ with my trio from the album Setting Sail. It’s a serious groover and our closer and we’ve been known to really jam it out. Our record is 18 minutes!
OSR: If you could play any concert or festival, what would it be and why?
JH: The Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado, need I say more? What an incredible stage and location!
OSR: Are you creative outside of music?
JH: My main form of expression is through music. However, as a result of the music industry grinding to a halt, I have been spending lots more time at home lately and have recently started getting into gardening. I also love getting creative in the kitchen.
OSR: If you could give an aspiring musician one piece of advice, what would it be?
JH: For an independent musician, this can be a lonely business, so find your allies! Don’t be afraid to reach out to people, online or in-person, and don’t forget that a personal meeting with someone is more effective than 100 cold emails.
OSR: What can we expect from you in the future?
JH: As I mentioned, I’m spending a lot of time home alone right now so I’m currently working on a solo EP, which will be released sometime towards the end of the year.
Post-COVID, I’m really looking forward to getting back on the road with my band and playing the new record live on stage!