Meet Samara Alofa, the Experimental Aotearoa Artist and 'Earth Punk'
Multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer, and vocalist Samara Alofa is on a path to becoming one of Aotearoa’s most beloved and respected storytellers. Since the release of their debut album Earth Punk, it has been clear that their artistry extends deep beyond music alone, and into a rich culture of dance and experimentation. Fresh off their solo performance with Ones to Watch, Ash Wallace spoke with the creator of Earth Punk to delve into what drives their craft.
Despite a very musical upbringing, it wasn’t until 2018 that Samara Alofa began playing around with software and producing their own music. Growing up in the church, they were exposed to big band setups and sang every chance they could get. “In high school I did a lot of extracurriculars and played in a band, just to find any opportunity to make music—even if it was going to make me look lame, like liturgical singing. I wanted any chance I could to express myself.” After their band ‘Queen Green’ went their separate ways, Samara moved to Naarm, Melbourne for a stint and continued creating delicate and detailed soundscapes. Uploading a few finished recordings to SoundCloud was their entry point to electronic music production, and their career has snowballed with a mind of its own since.
The concept for their debut album Earth Punk was born far before it was translated into music. Reflecting on their community and the philosophies they live and breathe, Earth Punk is the name of the essence Samara sees in their peers. “Earth Punk was a gag at first, our conversations, our fashion, the way we hold ourselves; our community, we are all soft punks that have a shared concern for the environment because a lot of us are indigenous bodies. That’s an Earth Punk.”
Stepping into songwriting, Samara treated the album as a series of diary entries to process the things they were learning, in particular about being an indigenous person. “The realization of what’s happened here. Learning about my whakapapa and being someone who has grown up Christian, then becoming an adult who forms their own opinions and ideas. It’s certainly a dairy of that process we all go through in our 20s, and me realizing I was a colonized person on a journey of decolonising myself.”
The sound of this artist project is morphing and changing before our eyes, but Samara sites technical influences that are undeniable. At a pivotal age, they listened to the likes of Frank Ocean, Little Dragon, and Karriem Riggins. Like Steve Lacy, they started out on an iPhone and connected deeply with their approach too. Classics like Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Erykah Baddhu, and character vocalists like Hiatus Kaiyote continue to resonate and influence their music.
Perhaps the most persistent influence for Samara is remembering their grandfather playing electric guitar and shredding while he was looking after them. They heard the music he loved to play like Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, and anything blues, and a deep appreciation began; not only for the songs themselves, but for the origins and history of the Black, African-American communities that pioneered so much of what we listen to today. “We ought to know about that history as artists in music. The Black community and their music have pioneered most of what is music today. Once I figured it out, I never heard anything the same—it’s a force, learning about the blues started it all for me and I still have so much to learn!”
Although songwriting is at the heart of it all, Samara thinks about music in the context of a wider contemporary environment. Having composed and written music for dancers and theater, they are always thinking about how their sound informs visual elements and vice versa. Focused on experimentation and true expression, Samara’s music is heavily inspired by movement and color, which brings an additional level of performance to the listening experience.
Their most recent single "Void" is a collaboration with fellow storyteller Polly Hill. Overcoming the hurdle of collaboration for an artist that has had full control over every piece of their artistry is no mean feat, but the outcome has been a dream team and dream song. “Working with Polly Hill and our friend AJ Honeysuckle too on visuals was a real accomplishment! It’s something that I had wanted to do for a very long time and the process of releasing it was really life-giving, a fantasy come true!”
Samara is currently in the process of bringing more live instruments into the mix and working with their close friends to make it happen, meaning it won’t be long before we can experience this musical world on a whole new level.