Song of the South Seas – the life and music of Bill Sevesi from Blackbox on Vimeo.
Bill Sevesi is the latest inductee to the NZ Music Hall of Fame, and will be honoured at the Apra Silver Scrolls, on September 17.
From the NZ Herald: 'Born in Tonga in 1923, with a Tongan mother and English father, Sevesi came to Auckland at age 9, and it wasn't long before he fell in love with the idea of playing music.
"I started out on the ukulele, in a house on Symonds St. I learned the ukulele there and then the steel guitar. There was a Samoan lady in the flat where I was staying and she played the ukulele. I learnt from her."
He loved hearing on the radio the music that reminded him of home, so he took a job in a radio factory.
"I was so keen on music that I took a job making radios, and they had a big powerful radio in there that I thought was great. So I bought the components and I brought them home and built my own one.
"It was so powerful I could listen to the radio in any part of the world -- Jamaica, Italy, anywhere. And I learned a lot of new songs coming out of America by listening to the radio. I'd record them so I could listen to them a few times over and learn them, and then I'd teach the songs to my band members so we could play them at the dance hall long before the songs were released in New Zealand."
Bill Sevesi interview by Graham Reid (2011), excerpt:
"Bill Sevesi says he speaks three languages, but he actually speaks four. The three he will admit to are Tongan (he was born in Nuku'alofa almost 88 years ago), English which he learned when he came to Auckland at age 9, and Italian, picked up during World War II.
"I found out that making love to Italian girls was better than fighting Germans," he says with a wicked glint in his eye, "so I learned the language. I was only 21, and the next day you didn't know if you were going to be alive. So have a good time."
But he says war sickened him, and when he came home he burned his uniform and everything but his pay book.
"They sent me some ribbon, some star or whatever, and I threw it in the rubbish."
And back home it was a year before he picked up what he had been doing previously in civilian life, playing Hawaiian and Pacific music on steel guitar.
And that's the fourth language Sevesi speaks: the musical history of Auckland.
He may have opening for the Finn Brothers a decade ago - and played with Neil Finn and Dave Dobbyn - but he can also tick off the names of great Auckland band leaders of the Thirties and Forties, such as Epi Shalfoon, whom he considers a crucial influence on his 60-year career playing and producing Pacific music with his bands which were renowned for their constantly changing lineups...."
Bill Sevesi profiled at Audioculture (music, photos)