JOHN BERGER / JBERGER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jerome Grey, wearing lei, with his sons Taumata Grey, left, and Tinifuloa Grey, and daughter Anamativa Grey.
Grey family shows
The musical family is among
the pioneers of Samoan music
Soft-spoken Jerome Grey is a remarkable man for reasons that have nothing to do with his role as a pioneer in contemporary Samoan music. At the age of 51 he returned to Samoa alone to undergo the traditional process in which a pe'a (body tattoo) is applied from the navel to lower midthigh by a tufuga (tattoo artist) using sharp bone combs, hammers and soot.
Many years before that, his now-deceased older brother had begun the process and found it too agonizing to complete. Grey felt someone had to step forward on behalf of the family and remove the shame associated with his brother's failure.
"He brought bad vibes to the family," Grey explained. "When you don't finish a tatau, you're going to be the laughingstock. So when my brother died, I said one of these days I would uplift this big voodoo. I didn't tell my wife, I didn't tell (my children), I just went home to Samoa and asked the (tufuga) if he had time for me."
In theory, the process can be completed in 10 days, but in practice it can take much longer and is not without risk. Aside from the physical pain involved in having one's body stabbed for hours at a time, there's also the possibility that the pain and loss of blood will be more than the man can take.
"They smack your body so hard with the stick and the chisel that by the time two hours go by, it feels like a whole day," Grey said. "But when it hurts (too much), you tell the guy to stop."
Grey's son, local entertainer Tinifuloa Grey, put the significance of his father's tatau in perspective when he mentioned that the older the recipient is, the greater the danger that he won't survive it.
"You get it when you're our age, because your body can withstand it," Tini Grey said. "Mentally, he was prepared and spiritually, obviously, and he did it for the whole family and we were very proud. There's nobody else in the family that's ever done that yet."
THE SUBJECT OF tataus hadn't been on the agenda when Tini Grey invited us to meet his father. We were planning to talk about the "Voices of Samoa" concert Jerome Grey is headlining at Kapono's tomorrow. Tini's brother Taumata and sister Anamativa also joined us.
Tini is already well known locally as a member of Reign. Taumata is enrolled at the University of California at Irvine and studying music at the Claire Trevor School of Arts, and has been making a name for himself as part of the eclectic band Natusol. Anamativa, who has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and is planning to become an attorney specializing in entertainment law, is the group's manager.
The kids grew up singing in church and gravitated toward music while always heeding their father's advice about the importance of higher education. Jerome Grey enjoyed singing and playing music for years but waited until after he graduated from college to try his luck as a professional. By 1970 he was one of the first Samoan entertainers to play Las Vegas, and rapidly expanded his repertoire to include jazz, country, Latin and Caribbean music.
Back in Samoa, he became interested in writing and arranging Samoan-language music in a Western style, long before the rise of reggae-influenced "Jamoan" music in Samoa and New Zealand. He was also a prolific recording artist, including albums in Hawaii for Tom Moffatt and Pierre Grill, and toured around the world.
The concert is a family project -- it's Dad's first big performance here in more than a decade, a chance for Tini and Taumata's groups to be showcased and an opportunity to share the diversity of Samoan music with a wider audience.
"Natusol has its own sound," Taumata Grey said, "and Reign loves our own kind of music, and we kind of come together when we do Dad's music, so you can hear the classic songs being played in a newer style.
"We have a little bit of Dad in our music, we have our influences from other artists, and church music, and just being around our friends," he said. "I think it's going to be a great vibe that night. ... We'd like to bring everybody in the community together and share the music with people who are not Samoan."
'Voices of Samoa'
Featuring Jerome Grey, with Reign, Natusol, Kapena, Toa, Ilona Irvine and Shawn Ishimoto
Where: Kapono's, Aloha Tower Marketplace
When: 6:30 p.m. tomorrow
Tickets: $15, available at Ticketmaster outlets, online at ticketmaster.com or charge at 877-750-4400
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