Talanoa: Daren Kamali

Daren Kamali is an Auckland based poet, writer, musician, and youth worker. Born in Fiji Daren is of Wallis and Futuna, Fijian and Palagi (European)  heritage and moved to New Zealand in 1992.

“Daren fuses the spoken word with music, creating chants, melodies, rhymes, and harmonies. His writings and music are inspired by his upbringing in Fiji and New Zealand”. ~     Te Papa Museum of New Zealand

Daren launched his new book/CD Poems and Songs from the Underwater World at Fresh Gallery Otara in May as part of the 2011 South Auckland Arts Summit. The official book launch is tomorrow (23 June, 2011) at Te Papa Museum of New Zealand in Wellington.

I talanoa with Daren about Poems and Songs from the Underwater World, South Auckland Poets Collective, challenges he has faced and advices for aspiring Pacific poets and writers.

Tell us a little about your background – what path has led you to what you are doing now?
I’ve always been passionate about the arts especially in poetry and music. My mother Eliza Kamali was my biggest influence growing up, she’s an amazing entertainer and we were a typical island family where we had to entertain and sing at church, birthdays and Christmas parties, old peoples homes, school etc.It was through meeting Rev MC (Mua Strickson Pua) back in 1998 that got me inspired to write my own originals and perform street poetry/music, busking round Aucklands CBD. Michelle Rounds also helped me in terms of being professional in the industry like introducing me to main stages/ festivals and music agency APRA that looks after my royalties and rights to my original creations.

Congratulations on your new poetry book, Poems and Songs from the Underwater World. Tell us more about it.
My book/CD Tales, Poems and Songs from the Underwater World was launched at Fresh Gallery Otara, South Auckland, NZ in May 2011 as part of the South Auckland Pacific Arts Summit. It has been a long time coming and with the help of Creative NZ funding, MIT and talented people and academics I was able to complete my book/cd. This book relates to the underwater world in parallel to my life. For example, the sea creatures that feature in my book signifies people close to me like the turtle and the shark are my sons, the glow fish is my fiance, dolphin my mother and so on. I tell the stories/poems/songs through the eyes of the Giant Squid’ who is me..haha..yeah i know sounds bizarre but that’s what inspired my vision to become reality. you’ll understand when u read the book.

Daren at the launch of Poems and Songs from the Underwater World, 5 May 2011 at Fresh Gallery Otara. Image via Colour Me Fiji (Ema Tavola) 

What challenges have you faced and what advice would you have for young Pacific poets and writers?
Arts is always full of challenges and the industry is very risky. I started my writing and performances in my 20’s I arrived in Aotearoa from Fiji when I was 17 which was a huge transition for me. As a creative youth worker I use writing and performance as a positive outlet to facilitate workshops and encourage Pacific/Maori youth in trouble. If young people want to pursue writing/performance as a career, I strongly encourage them to be realistic about vision, goals and plans which means that being talented and passionate is not enough, they will need to have descipline and gain confidence in themselves. There’s always room for improvement and learning – attend courses, workshops, research successful artists. It’s about business so research the business world around the artform(s) of your choice. It’s a must to master your creativity but it is equally important to know how to manage, market and promote yourself, I call it ‘The Hussle’ not in the street sense of the word but in a business savy way. I have failed and almost given up many times but I kept believing that one day it’ll workout, having drive and the right attitude are very important values to develop and nurture in the game. I can go on but these are the few tips young/emerging artists need to start thinking about if they really wanna pursue a career in the arts. These are tools and skills that have brought me through 15 years of my career and I’m still learning a lot today. It may look easy but it’s not.

You’re one of the founding members of the South Auckland Poets Collective. Tell us about SAPC.
I co-founded South Auckland Poets Collective with my partner Grace Taylor and youth worker Ramon Narayan from Youthline four years ago. This collective group is a prime example of how a ten week workshop can lead into a long term relationship as a creative writing/performance group. We launched our Book/DVD Somethingworthreading? in July 2010 with funding from CNZ and Youthline and have toured nationally. We run rehearsals/meetings and workshops fortnightly at Youthline Papatoetoe always exploring ways of perfecting our performances, shows and youth workshops. We also facilitate workshops at schools and training institutes on our tours. Add us on Facebook if you are a poetry lover/ writer/ performer etc.

Daren with founders of the South Auckland Poets Collective. Image via  SAPC on Facebook

Do other art forms or artists in different disciplines inspire or have influenced you and how?
Yes other artists and art forms inspire me in a big way. I love music and poetry but always thinking outside the box when it comes to creativity. For example with Tales, Poems and Songs from the Underwater World, I didn’t want this Book/CD to be just another collection of writings put into a book. My vision was to create something innovative and different so I combined/collaborated with other artist asnd academics. I included Fijian Heritage Specialist and Linguist Dr Apolonia Tamata to translate my writings into the Fijian language, also international renown Poet/Writer/Editor Robert Sullivan (Head of Creative Writing School MIT) editor of my book . I also included two illustrators, acrylic painter Leahna Gill and animator Munro Te Whata. Lastly I recorded a CD of Songs and Spoken Word at Otara Music and Arts Center Studio with Sound Engineer/ Musician – David Letoa.

Close up of Leahna Gill art work. Leahna uses layer upon layer of acrylic paint to form a braille-like surface which is then sealed in acrylic coating. Her works explore ancestral totems, the significance of the ocean and dreamtime; she collaborated with Daren Kamali to create the illustrations for Tales, Poems and Songs from the Underwater World.   Image via 2011 South Auckland Arts Summit

The Internet has seemingly made the world a more democratic space in which artists, writers and musicians can more easily share their work with the world. How do you think the Internet has created possibilities for Pacific artists?
Yeah technology has alot to do with innovative work, changes and ideas nowadays especially for our artists in the Pacific. The internet has made the world accessible to us and the international market through emails, Skype, Youtube, Google, MySpace, online jounals, anthologies, websites, blogs, social networks like FB and Twitter etc. It is much easier today to communicate and create modern art, designs, sounds, visuals with like minded people across the world. The internet has made it possible for creative Pacific people to collaborate, create projects, promote, market, research funding/sponsors, network with the right people, research international festivals, conferences/symposiums/seminars, meet and build a relation with agents/producers/artists overseas We can get support and help through exposing and exploring contacts/talents/abilities and possibilities with a press of a button.

What are you currently working on?
Just Launched my self published Book/CD ‘Tales, Poems and Songs from the Underwater World (sold out/ 100 copies) so looking for avenues like publishers, sponsors, funders etc to push my project nation wide and international. Talking to Pacific Education Center who’s interested in reprinting more copies. Official NZ launch at Te Papa Museum on the 23 of June 2011, plans to launch in Fiji in October.

Also aim to complete my Diploma in Creative Writing at MIT, end of 2011

I love music very much so over the next year I will be working on some tunes.

What would be your dream creative project or collaboration?
My dream for a long time now and I am working on it at the moment is in the near future I aim to start up a Non-Profit Creative Youth Trust with my partner Grace Taylor for young Maori/ Pacific Island people in South Auckland, providing mentorship, facilitating creative training, workshops, consultancy and pathways. Using the contacts I have built up over the last 15 years I call upon professional dancers, musos, writers, performers, academics and inspirational people to help run programs/presentations in schools, community and other venues in Auckland and around NZ. My aims are to strengthen and encourage- self confidence, team building, positive attitude, up skilling, career pathways and further education. I believe we got to nurture our young people and keep forwarding in a positive direction as a community.

What are you looking forward to?
I look forward to a more positive, productive and successful future, not only for my family, friends and creativity but for all our people and communities as we continue to help and support each other in tough times and great times.

ArtSpeak 2010: Poet and Musician Daren Kamali via BEEAMS NESIAN BOX 

Vinaka Daren! All the best for your launch tomorrow and in Fiji later this year.

Interview conducted via email 11 June, 2011. 


Hou: Daren Kamali Book Launch and Māori/Pacific Poetry Reading

Thursday 23 June, 2011

The Marae, Level 4

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Cable Street , Wellington

New Zealand

6.30pm–7.00pm Book launch

7.00pm–8.30pm Māori/Pacific Poetry Reading

Free entry

Daren Kamali Book Launch

This book and CD present a collection of English writings edited by Robert Sullivan and translated into Fijian by Dr Apolonia Tamata (Fijian Heritage Specialist, University of South Pacific, Suva). The book includes illustrations by Hawaiian artist Leahna Gill and animation storyboards by Munro Te Whata. Accompanying the book is a CD of songs and spoken word pieces in English and Fijian.

This event is proudly funded by Creative New Zealand.

Māori and Pacific Poetry Reading

Te Papa’s special line-up of poets from around Aotearoa and the Pacific includes:

Albert Wendt

Teresia Teaiwa

Emelihter Kihleng

Brandy Nalani McDougall (Hawaii)

Craig Santos Perez (Guam)

Selina Tusitala Marsh

South Auckland Poets Collective

Mohit Prasad (Fiji)

Regis Stella (PNG)

Mua Strickson-Pua

Sina Va’ai (Samoa)

Karlo Mila

Tusiata Avia

Alice Te Punga Somerville

These writers are in town for a hui – Reading and Writing in the Pacific – which is being held by SPACLALS (South Pacific Association of Commonwealth Language and Literary Studies) and hosted at Te Herenga Waka Marae, Victoria University of Wellington. SPACLALS is hosting a three day conference in Wellington (Aotearoa New Zealand) 23-25 June 2011 on the theme of ‘Reading and Writing in the Pacific.’ Read about SPACLALS online.


Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Interview with Daren Kamali by Ema Tavola for 2011 South Auckland Pacific Arts Summit

Photos from launch of Poems and Songs from the Underwater World  at Fresh Gallery Otara, 5 May 2011 by Ema Tavola/Colour Me Fiji

South Auckland Poets Collective

South Auckland Poets Collective on Facebook


Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

2011 South Auckland Pacific Arts Summit

Profile photo of Daren Kamali courtesy of Daren.

Ema Tavola/Colour Me Fiji on Flickr

2011 South Auckland Pacific Arts Summit

South Auckland Poets Collective on Facebook


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