She credits Simon Lynch and Tony Nogotautama, who produced and mixed ‘To Sir With Love’, as providing the vehicle that launched her music career. However, it was her smooth silky voice that glided effortlessly when singing the song – and her fun and beautiful youthful ways, blended with a Soul II Soul funky beat – that got her noticed.
Ngaire quickly followed up with her next single: another remake, Dusty Springfield’s ‘Son of a Preacher Man’. It was a further significant and successful song in Ngaire’s career, which once again saw her garnering a popular following with audiences tuning into her music on MaiFM, MoreFM, and watching her videos on RTR Countdown and Juice TV.
NGAIRE CONTINUES TO LEND HER EXPERTISE TO UPLIFTING PACIFIC CULTURE AND IDENTITY IN THE MEDIA INDUSTRIES.
Southside Records released her debut album, the self-titled Ngaire, in 1991, which included all of her top hits; it also extended her creativity into song writing with Lynch on ‘Give Me a Chance’. However, this was the one and only song she penned. Looking back in 2021, she says, “There’s a lot to be said about an artist’s pain and their life and how willing they are to share that pain, and while I had a lot of stories I wasn’t willing to share the pain at that time.” The remake of Ardijah’s ‘When the Feeling is Gone’ was another slick Lisa Stansfield-esque pop song interpreted by Ngaire that continued to place her in the spotlight.
Ngaire credits her former husband, Michael Coley, marketing and promotions manager for Festival Records, for helping her navigate her way through the music business. She said at times it was hard to be taken seriously by senior members within the industry and often felt relegated into a very racial and gender bias category: being the “little brown girl”.
She remarks that there was – and in 2021 still is – an inequality in power in the music industry. “As a young Pacific woman, the industry was so white and so male dominated, and still continues to be that way … [I was] never treated like the other rock artists or indies that were considered what New Zealand was … I wish I had more of a voice in what was going on.”
Nowadays, Ngaire Fuata is on the board of the Pacific Music Awards, something she is passionate about. She remembers that when she was making music in the 90s there really were no Māori or Pacific artists that had platforms offering support and promotion, so she continues to lend her voice and expertise to uplifting Pacific culture and identity in the music and media industries.
At the same time as Ngaire’s music career was being established she was working full time at the Māori and Pacific Programmes Department at TVNZ, having secured her first job as a secretary. This was to be the beginning of a pathway that led her into an esteemed television and media career. She worked on productions such as the 1988 Telethon and the 1990 Commonwealth Games, and presented shows such as Town and Country and NZ Living.
Ngaire began working on the production Tagata Pasifika, presenting the show and later would move to the role of production manager. First appearing on television screens in New Zealand in the late 1980s, it was a pioneering programme dedicated to producing Pacific stories for audiences around the world. It had a strong focus on raising awareness and discussing issues affecting Pacific Island communities.
When TVNZ announced that they were going to stop production of the show in 2014, it was three Pasifika media legends – Taualeo’o Stephen Stehlin (MNZM), John Utanga and Ngaire Fuata – that negotiated the contract to independently produce Tagata Pasifika. The company they established, SunPix, is dedicated to producing real stories from Pacific Island communities on everything that is part of these rich and diverse cultures and islands.
Ngaire Fuata’s cultural heritage celebrates her father’s Rotuma ancestry and her mother’s Dutch heritage. Ngaire was born in England and migrated to New Zealand with her parents at a young age. She grew up in Whakatane and went to school at St Joseph’s. It was here that she became involved in kapa haka and singing and says this is where she formed her connection to Māori culture. It was her Māori audiences that connected to her music and fondly remember her.
In 2011, Fuata and her daughter visited her father’s native island of Rotuma and filmed a documentary called Salat se Rotuma – Passage to Rotuma for TVNZ’s Tagata Pasifika. Of this profound journey she says, “My life changed so much after my trip to Rotuma it gave me a deep connection to my whenua, confidence in who I am which has empowered me. I’m sure taking Ruby [her daughter] there at age eight has given her the same, enough for her to be confident in the artist she is.” Ngaire is currently learning Rotuman through PEC (Pasifika Education Centre) and loving it. “Even though it has some similarities to other Pacific languages it’s also very different! I feel completely challenged but I love it!”
“One of the most important things to remember in this industry is have integrity in everything that you do.”
On reflection she says she feels humbled to have touched people’s lives with her music, but considers the work she does in media as one of the founding directors of the award-winning company SunPix is more meaningful and deeply satisfying. “I know I’ll keep doing it for many years to come in some form or another.”Ngaire really credits her parents for “finding each other and doing everything for us to have a good life. Biggest supporters, biggest love from them. Also my band members, Mi’i, Wilmason, John and Dee – they’ve left me with very fond memories.”
Although it has been over 30 years since ‘To Sir with Love’ was released, what is significant about this achievement is it will forever place Ngaire in New Zealand music history as the first person of Rotuman descent to score a major No.1 hit single. From London to Whakatane to Auckland, Ngaire Fuata has led a most successful and inspiring career in the music, film and television industry in New Zealand. Her last words leave us with a thought of inspiration: “One of the most important things to remember in this industry is have integrity. Have integrity in everything that you do.”