Ema I’u is a full time multi-disciplinary creative of Sāmoan and Pākehā heritage based in Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa. Her latest single, Flower of Life, exploded into the music scene with a premiere of the sci-fi music video at the first ever SXSW Sydney in 2023.
In the short film, we see Aotearoa as the last inhabitable place on Earth and meet a gifted prisoner (EMA I’U) who escapes; seeking the repatriation of an ancestral treasure to lead the remnants of humanity to salvation. I’u shared some insights into the creative journey behind ‘Flower of Life’
Tell us about ‘Flower of life’ – how did you come to create this song and narrative music video? What was the most exciting part of this process? Why do you want to share this story about exploring and connecting to your gafa? Who do you hope to connect to this song and album?
The song ‘Flower of Life’ is about moving past old systems which have disconnected us from nature and our ancestral power to a place of healing, collaboration and the next age of human evolution. It pretty much wrote itself in a flow of consciousness one night and it feels like it’s getting closer to the right time to share it. I feel like as colonialism and capitalism reaches a tipping point it’s inevitable there will be this hard push of the oppressive forces before we can wake up to something more harmonious. It is not an easy process but I think this transition is occurring in our lifetime and the ‘Flower of Life’ helps symbolise that. It’s also an anti-war cry.
I wanted to collaborate with my friend and Filmmaker: Francis Baker on a visualiser for this song because I really loved his work on the video Ka Puta by Kiko. I wanted to tell a strong cinematic story with themes of climate change, future dystopia, feminine empowerment and a reclamation of culture. This is also a metaphor for the start of my journey as a creative to acknowledging my Moana Gafa and place in Aotearoa.
There is an unstoppable strength that comes from embracing who you are on a deeper level and being proud of that connection and when we have the opportunity to explore that, whether through language or aesthetic it can truly set you free as an artist.
I was lucky enough to include my mother, uncle and some personal items in the making of this video which really means a lot to me and I feel more confident to keep going.
Still from ‘Flower of life’, courtesy of the artist.
How does ‘Flower of life’ and your upcoming album differ from your previous singles ‘Top Shelf’, ‘Midnight mistress’ and ‘Humble wings’?
This song is moving more in the direction of where I feel the birth of EMA I’U really begins, mixing modern and ancient sounds and concepts. This song and video reflect more of my Sāmoan roots in some of the sound and subject matter and has a more esoteric message. This is the first song from my debut album dropping in 2024 that has similar spiritual themes but there is an equal amount of sassy girl songs I need to get out of my system along the way as well too. A neo soul, early 2000s RnB meets contemporary pop production and ‘world’ kind of collection.
As a multidisciplinary storyteller, what is unique about the ways you approach story that sets you apart?
I’m not sure if this sets me apart but certainly a lot of thought and energy has gone into each element.
There are multiple layers, tropes, symbols, textures and metaphors threaded throughout the song and film. Every word, colour or shadow is there for a reason.
With the audio, my Producer Nathan Judd and I incorporated traditional slap dance, salu strokes and nature sounds to create the primal beat before developing the vocal bed using hip-hop sampling techniques. The lyrics are loaded with intention. The video…honestly you could watch it 100 times and not pick up all the subtle details. Let’s just say there are little nods and references to so many films, religions, cultures and patterns. I’m also grateful I got to flex some acting muscles within this story. It really has been a massive undertaking but I am proud of our creative team’s effort to make this to the highest production level we could and with such universal themes. As an Afakasi, I also feel I have a unique perspective of both Pākehā and Polynesian worlds and will have my own way of communicating between and bridging the two.
What was the release and your experience at SXSW Sydney like?
It was an amazing experience being a part of the inaugural Asia-Pacific addition of such a prestigious festival and we felt honoured to have Flower of Life included amongst the high calibre of videos from around the world which were part of the music video screening. Definitely a tick on the bucket list and I look forward to going to many more festivals and getting on the circuit. It’s a great way to meet people and expand your opportunities.
SXSW Sydney was the first international film festival I’ve attended so it was all very exciting. With screen, music, technology and gaming events galore it was truly overwhelming the amount of activities we could access across the city and so great to have seen artists from Aotearoa making their mark.
What would you like to see more of at SXSW as a Samoan musician?
One of my festival highlights was watching the ONEFOUR documentary about the Australian-Sāmoan Drill Rap Group, what an incredible story! Definitely worth seeing.
What I’d like to see more of as a Sāmoan musician at SXSW is more Moana talent being showcased. Our Polynesian cultures span a big part of the Pacific and as the SXSW Sydney Festival has this Asia-Pacific focus and develops over time, I would love to see a Sāmoa, Tonga, Niue, Fiji, Vanuatu programme etc etc where visitors can experience a taste of what all the Islands have to offer. We had an ‘Aotearoa House’ which was awesome and the kapa haka group Angitu held some of that cultural space and mana…I see opportunity for more of our Island nations to come and perform on this global stage. I would also like to see more “meet and greet” mixers where First Nation creatives can come together during the festival and whakawhanaungatanga.
You can support Ema’s work by listening, streaming or downloading ‘Flower of Life’ here: https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/emaiu/flower-of-life
Follow Ema’s work on instagram @emaiumusic