We interviewed songwriter/artist, Sivasa Laupati, about the unique ministry he performs to bring beauty and hope to people’s hearts.
Editor – You seem to have a passion for all things creative! Tell us what it was like growing up as Sivasa, and when you first realized that art and music needed to be a big part of your life.
Sivasa – Growing up as Sivasa Laupati was a joy. I had the privilege of being raised by my grandparents, parents, and extended family. I grew up with my siblings and plenty of cousins, so boredom was rarely an issue. Our days were spent playing in the street, running around in the front yard, and climbing the tree that still stands in the front of our home. Our evenings were filled with singing when our family gathered for evening worship. It would be through worship services like the ones at home and at church that would allow for music to play a major role in my spiritual walk and my musical growth.
My grandfather, Filipo Lepulu, was known in the Samoan community for his work as an American Samoa educator. His arrival in the United States would serve as a catalyst for many of our family members coming to California from American Samoa. Through my family, I was exposed to different forms of visual art, food, and music. At any moment of the day, the smell of my uncle’s jar of kimchee would emanate through my house while Samoan pop music rang from the small boombox speakers sitting on the front porch. My cousins and I would do our best Michael Jackson impressions, and none of us could ever truly land the steps for the moonwalk. Pictures of family members hung on the walls, artistically trimmed with Samoan siapo (also known as tapa cloth), feathers, and shell necklaces. I did not know what many of the symbols in our cultural art meant, but I knew they had some significance to our people because I only saw this décor in Polynesian homes. I was surrounded by something that would later be one way I learned to experience Jesus and express my love for Him to others.
Music would be the first art form that I would gravitate towards. Before a written form of our ancient languages was created, the history of Pacific Island people was passed down through song and dance. Our home was a conservative Samoan, Seventh-day Adventist Christian home, so cultural dance was not emphasized or encouraged. I did not care much for those ancestral dances because I was a shy kid, and I did not want to perform in front of anyone. With music, I could still participate in some ways, but I could hide behind my family. Singing was the first language I learned to speak, followed by English with bits and pieces of Samoan. The music connected me to our ancestral language, and like many other semi-bilingual generations of Samoan children, many of the songs simply sounded better in Samoan. I sang in every choir and singing group in our church. Music was the way I came to understand the gospel clearly. My family would allow me to sing solos, even when I didn’t want to sing them, and they began to groom me to be a leader. I did not mind making music, especially because it was a time for me to see family. My greatest passion, however, was something totally different.
On one Sabbath, my mother recalls that I was being difficult as most children can be. The Sabbath programs were geared more towards the older generations, so children were encouraged to stay silent and pay attention. Although I understood the simpler words of the Samoan language, I did not understand when it was spoken in formal settings. On top of that, the church was hot, packed, and my parents did not want me hanging around outside. After several attempts to keep me quiet, my mother pulled out an old steno notepad with a pen and laid it in my lap. I drew the first thing that came to mind, and for the duration of the meeting, I did not move or fuss, even well after the meetings were over. My parents saw it as a nice hobby to have, but it would be my grandfather, my Aunty Irene, and my Uncle Walker, who would acknowledge this gift. From that moment, I dedicated every moment I could to being a cartoonist. Cartoons made me laugh, and they had a way of sparking my imagination and creativity. Cartoons were also an escape from the hardships of life that came with being a teenage man being raised Samoan in an American environment. I chose cartoons because they made me happy, and I ultimately wanted to make others happy.
I did not take my passions seriously until tragedy struck. I wrote my first Christian song when I was 19 years old. I wrote a song called “Sweet Paradise” while mourning the death of my grandfather, Filipo Lepulu. It came after weeks of literal stillness and silence because my grandfather was a major part of my life. That song was only supposed to be for me, but I did not know how much of an impact it would have on others who were also going through similar struggles. God used that experience to help me develop my writing, composing, and musical performance style. Since 2009, I have released three solo albums, and I will be releasing another album in 2021. The year 2010 was the year I began taking my art seriously, somewhat by default. After a surgical procedure that forced me to sit and stay at home, it would be the encouragement of my grandmother, Meleane Lepulu, to “draw something” to help me pass the time. The six months of rehabilitation was what God used to help further develop my artistic skills. My music and my art have been how I share my love for God with others. It has not always been a pleasant journey, and it has in no way been easy. God has used everything, good and not-so-good, to build me up and ultimately glorify Him.
Editor – For some, it’s a drawn-out process to find their personal gifts and calling. For others, it comes early. If you could do it financially, would you make art and music your career? Many have discovered that it’s hard to make a living in the arts.
Sivasa – Yes, I would make art and music my career. I do so for several reasons. The first reason—creativity was the first thing God did. It was not a sermon nor healing. God created. The Almighty painted the world into existence by speaking it. I imagine Him looking over the void mentioned in the book of Genesis, much like an artist looks at an empty canvas, and being excited at all the possibilities. Creating is a reflection of God’s character in us. Another reason I would make it my career is that these are the gifts God trusted me to fulfill His calling on my life. When I paint, or when I write and sing a song, it comes from an experience. When I experience God, I want people to experience Him similarly, and the best way I know how to share that with others is through the arts.
It is hard to make a living in the arts, but not impossible. I have been met by the words of many well-meaning individuals who say that I need to find a good paying job. Others have mentioned that no one can make money in the arts. Yet when I look at smartphones, video games, movies, modes of transportation (cars, planes, trains, etc.), clothes—all of that is art. Art makes the sleek mobile phone designs, the life-like computer graphics, cinematic special effects, and a cut of fabric. It can be argued that it is more technology, and that would be partially correct. Technology is what makes it work, but it’s the art that sells it. There is a lot of competition in the field of art. I agree. Like other jobs and some careers, there are challenges that come with making a living from art. It is up to the individual, the time they put into their passion, and how faithful they execute their vision.
I don’t know everything because I am still learning. However, if I knew in 2009 what I know now, I would be in a different place, making a living off of what I love to do.
Editor – Very true! And for some strange reason, many consumers think that newly-created art and music should be available to the public for free. Go figure! This is my last question. How do you use your music and art to bring goodness and healing to people’s hearts? Some people make pretty art, just to make pretty art—and that’s OK. What if we can somehow use what we create to point others to the original, ultimate creative mind? That would make what we do much more compelling.
Sivasa – Yeah, it’s sad that people believe they deserve things like art and music for free. I know that many would not feel the same way if people expected their services to be voluntary, without compensation. But such is the world we live in.
God uses both my music and my art to bring goodness and healing to people’s hearts. I am simply the instrument or the brush that He uses to bless people. My music and art do not always spring from ideal or happy times. Much of what I write about comes from moments of despair, depression, grief, and mourning. God used music and lyricism to help me remember the Bible truths I learned. I relate to the Psalmist who used music and poetry to bring him out of whatever dire situation he was in.
With regards to the visual art I create, I specialize in Polynesian art. While many see these symbols and patterns passing as just pretty pictures, Polynesian art is also a language. The patterns are fashioned after things in nature like sea creatures and plants. Each symbol has a meaning that forms a pattern, much like a sentence. When these symbols are combined, they create stories. The stories testify to the person who wears them and is often seen on tattoos, clothing, and decor. My art always has a story behind it. The intricacies and details of each piece open up conversations and allow people to connect. Healing can come through these conversations, and if the healing comes from God, then even more doors are opened to people hearing about the Healer.
Editor – Thank you for sharing parts of your journey with us. It is faith-affirming and inspiring! We wish you success as you continue to create and bless others with what God has given you.