A tear-stained woman runs up to music trio Sol3 Mio at the Auckland Museum, where they are about to be grilled by Woman’s Day. “I love you guys so much!” she cries, giving them a big hug. “I can’t believe you’re here! I’m going to tell all my friends I met you!” And with that, she’s off.
The trio grin. Despite being household names in New Zealand and making a significant impact on the rest of the world with their take on contemporary- meets-classical music, the Samoan-Kiwi group admits they’re not often hugged so warmly and enthusiastically. Says tenor Pene Patai, “We have a few crazy fans, but most people are quite respectful and conservative because of the nature of classical music. It’s very rare that we get people coming up to us, screaming, ‘I love you.’ It’s great, though!”
In the space of four years, Pene, 27, and his brother Amitai, 26, along with their cousin Moses Mackay, 25, have gone from being uni students with big dreams to award-winning classical singers with even bigger dreams. They’ve sung for the Queen in London, outsold Lorde’s Pure Heroine here in Godzone, won a clutch of NZ Music Awards, performed sell-out tours across Aotearoa and travelled the world, recently returning from South Korea, Japan, Spain and France.
“We were singing in front of the Notre Dame in Paris,” recalls Moses, “and the local police came along on bikes and chased us away for singing in public. It was surreal!” With their second album, On Another Note, which features classics from “That’s Amore” to “Edelweiss”, racing to the top of our music charts, the down- to-earth Auckland-raised lads admit it’s good to be home. “First thing I do,” grins Moses, “is get a pie, a cream doughnut, a bottle of milk and bread. Mum and Dad are happy to see me, but it’s like, ‘OK, what’s for dinner?’ I do the washing and things get back to normal pretty quickly.”
But there’s been one big change – Moses bought his folks a home last year. “It was a bit of a milestone for our family,” he says proudly. “We’ve never owned a house – anyone in our family. It was a bit emotional. We call it the Halfway House, as everyone’s always coming over. It’s a ‘my lounge is everyone else’s lounge’ kind of thing, which is the nicest part.”
Despite the generous gift, the trio vigorously deny they’re rich. “Not true!” laughs Pene. “People always say we’re rolling in it, but we’re not!”
It’s hard to imagine being on tour with Sol3 Mio is any less than a giggle-fest. But the group insists that, despite the constant chuckles, their early struggles – growing up battling poverty and racism, and taking stinging criticism from parts of the Samoan community – still play on their minds. It’s their Christian beliefs that keep them centred, tells Pene. “Before each show, we huddle up and say a prayer.”
When Sol3 Mio isn’t touring, Pene and his soprano fiancée Amina Edris, 24, live in sunny California, where he’s studying at the prestigious San Francisco Opera Center.
His most romantic gesture to date, other than proposing onstage during a concert in Auckland in December last year, was to surprise Amina with a trip to Disneyland after a recent trip to Europe. The pair are set to wed on January 15 next year and Pene mournfully declares he’s on a strict diet for the wedding.
“I started last Monday. I’ve cut out sugar and carbs, but I’m realistic – it’s not like I want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger!” Amitai confesses it’s been ages since he’s done something romantic for his long-term girlfriend, Wellington soprano Isabella Moore. Although last Valentine’s Day, he filled her bedroom with teddy bears.
But it’s Auckland-based Moses, they all agree, who’s the ultimate romantic. The self-styled Mr Smooth is also, they giggle, the only true bachelor among them. “We’ve got an album coming out – and Moses is the single!” they joke in unison.
Despite the laughs, Sol3 Mio is seriously proud of On Another Note and about their mission for the coming years. “We want to represent Samoans and Kiwis. For us to be able to say, ‘This is our heritage and we’re singing classical music our way,’ is a big thing for us,” says Pene.
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