In January, Hunga Tonga – Hunga Ha'apai, an undersea volcano in the Kingdom of Tonga violently erupted, blasting a plume of ash and triggering a tsunami that destroyed homes and villages.

Although it’s been a few months and Tonga might not be “trending on social media anymore”, DJ Lady Shaka says, “that doesn’t mean the work has stopped, families still need our help, communities still need our help and Tonga still needs our help”. 

To help raise funds for Tonga, the artist and her team at Pulotu Underworld - a global collective celebrating Pacific music, culture and artistry - along with Rainbow Youth, have set up Project Ofa.

Project Ofa is a fundraiser concert with local artists happening online on Friday March 18, from 6.30pm to 9.30pm.

DJ Lady Shaka during filming of Project Ofa, March 2022 / Image: Matiu Hamuera

Musicians that will be performing at the fundraiser concert include Swiss, Noah Slee, SWIDT, JessB, Rubi Du, Hollie Smith, Lady Shaka, Disciple Pati, Kwest, Samara, JP and IAC Music.

Re: journalist Matiu Hamuera went behind the scenes during the filming of Project Ofa and caught up with DJ Lady Shaka and MC’s Irene Folau and John-Paul ‘JP’ Lilo Foliaki. 

DJ Lady Shaka, Head of Project Ofa, March 2022 / Image: Matiu Hamuera

Lady Shaka said she was devastated when she saw the news about the eruption. 

“I went into a bit of a panic mode, I was trying to ring and get ahold of my family back in Tonga,” the 25-year-old said. 

“I felt helpless and my heart was saying I need to do something, and so I put the call out on social media and reached 10,000 people overnight.” 

Project Ofa, March 2022 / Image: Matiu Hamuera

“The whole essence of Project Ofa is about the concept of foaki which is giving. 

“Everyone involved has that same mindset of ‘we are doing this for no other reason but to help the people’”.

Lucia Farron-Diamantis, Project Ofa Producer, March 2022 / Image: Matiu Hamuera

A live concert had originally been planned but with the rise in Covid-19 cases, the organisers made the decision to go online. 

Irene Folau, 22, MC for Project Ofa, March 2022 / Image: Matiu Hamuera

Irene Folau, an MC for the event, said hearing about the eruption “was like a whole different kind of hurt for me”.

“[I was]sitting here knowing I have a roof over my head and I'm not uncertain of anything, but we couldn’t do anything [about it],” the 22-year-old said. 

“My uncle Lisala Folau was the man who swam from our island of Atatā to the main island Tongatapu, which is incredible because he is disabled and can barely walk.”

NZ Soul Singer, Hollie Smith, Project Ofa, March 2022 / Image: Matiu Hamuera

“My dad was so concerned and when my uncle was missing, everyone thought he may have died, I’d never seen my dad break down like that before,” Irene said.

“I think it was a feeling of helplessness because he couldn't do anything about it. Like we literally couldn't.”

‘JP’ Lilo Foliaki, 27, MC for Project Ofa, March 2022 / Image: Matiu Hamuera

Fellow MC, John-Paul Lilo Foliaki, who goes by JP, said “I think it’s really important just to show up and show face”. 

“The whole kaupapa of Project Ofa, sharing space and showing love and support for our Tongan community, extends beyond the community.” 

“It’s all encompassing and great to see artists from all walks of life coming together in solidarity,” the 27-year-old said. 

NZ Rapper, SWIDT performing at Project Ofa, March 2022 / Image: Matiu Hamuera

“It’s a shit time right now, especially internationally. So it’s good to take a moment to come together and support those in Tonga who are experiencing a difficult time.”

MC’s Irene and JP, Project Ofa, March 2022 / Image: Matiu Hamuera

“If I asked my cousins in Tonga how they’re doing, they’re going to say ‘they’re fine’ and continue on with life,” JP said.

“But we know it’s not all fine and for us here to be able to come together to show love and do something beautiful in a time when things are ugly is so important.”

Project Ofa Team, March 2022 / Image: Matiu Hamuera

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