In Conversation with Joel Havea

A skilled songwriter, natural singer, unique guitarist and overall passionate performer, Joel Havea is a man of many talents. Born in Tonga, raised in Melbourne, Australia, and living in Hamburg, Germany, Joel has a plethora of cultural experiences from which to draw. We had a chance to speak with this singer-songwriter and his band about their new album Ki ‘a Lavaka and much more!

Why did you decide to enter the music industry?

These days, I think most people enter this industry because of the realisation there is nothing else in this world they would rather be doing. This was definitely the case with me.

Can you tell us about Ki ‘a Lavaka?

Ki ‘a Lavaka is my third album (second with my trio) and was released on the 24th of April. It’s a coming home record for me. For the first time, some of the songs contain music from Tonga – a tropical island kingdom in the South Pacific – where I was born and my father is from.

I grew up in Melbourne, Australia, but have now been based in Hamburg, Germany, for the last 12 years. This time and distance have given me a new perspective and appreciation of where I’ve come from. It felt like the time was right and necessary to go back to my roots on this album.



What was the recording and writing process like?

I started writing the songs soon after my last album Setting Sail and first with my Hamburg-based trio – bassist Arnd Geise and drummer Leo Lazar. It was released in 2017.

Ki ‘a Lavaka was recorded over 10 months. We started in Hamburg at 106hz Studios at the beginning of 2019 where we recorded 15 songs in six days. These sessions formed the foundation for the record. Back in Melbourne in March 2019, I recorded the sessions with the Tongan Choir. I finished up the overdubs back in Germany over the next few months when I returned.

It went full circle while the album was being mixed as I was back in Tonga in December/January for five weeks. This meant slowly downloading the songs on 3G Internet with an overheating laptop on my lap in 85% humidity!

Does the album have any significant meaning?

This is my most personal and meaningful album to date. I experienced a couple of significant losses over the period when I was writing the songs and the lyrics. The themes reflect that. Travel, adventure and longing for home have always been recurring subjects in my songs and Ki ‘a Lavaka also continues along this trajectory.

What do you hope people take from your music?

My music generally contains positive messages which are especially important in troubled times like these. I also try and write lyrics that, hopefully, get the listener thinking. So, on that note, we hope you take the time and listen to the words.

What is more challenging for you – melody or lyrics?

Writing a nice melody is a good and important skill, however, writing an excellent and meaningful lyric is an art form. Unfortunately, in modern music, the lyrical side of songwriting is often overlooked. For me, powerful thought-provoking prose is the difference between a good and great song. Having a strong lyric is, of course, very important in my songs.

How do you keep yourself motivated?

It’s a good question and an important one in the middle of a pandemic. To be honest, it’s something I struggled with initially as the lockdown started. It was the longest time I’ve been in one place since 2013 and I usually get a lot of my creative inspiration from my travels and touring. It took me quite some time to find a routine that works, but I’m slowly getting there. Staying physically and mentally fit is the key.

How would you describe your sound?

South sea soul.

What do you think is the best way to discover new music?

Live on stage in a sweaty club. Up close and personal where you can hear the off-mic band chatter, smell the beer-stained carpets, feel the bass drum in your chest and witness the energy build from a tight band locking down a groove.

What does the future hold for you?

We’re living in uncertain times. I’ve made my living over the last seven years predominately by touring and at the moment I can’t say what the future holds for me, or the entire industry for that matter.

That being said, I think great music is needed now more than ever. It’s a given that I will continue to write, release and, hopefully again soon, tour with my music. There is a poignant quote by the American novelist Toni Morrison that I think sums up the situation we’re in right now:

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language; that is how civilisations heal.”

Do you have a message for our readers?

We hope you enjoy the new record! We put our heart and soul into making it and would love to hear your thoughts. Please hit us up via our socials and say hello.

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