Fed by street culture and schooled by strict choirmasters, South Auckland musicians combine grit and polish into a musical signature like no other. Tight church -tuned harmonies and Polyfest winning moves are just a couple of the telltale hallmarks. Though putting this sound on the world stage and telling South Auckland stories hasn’t been easy. 

Indeed, if you wormhole back to the 1990s, South Auckland music was very rarely heard outside the four walls of community halls, churches, nightclubs and garages. Radio stations just didn’t play music made by Māori and Pacific artists. They were also ignored by major labels. 

Musicians had to make it for themselves. Musical lodestars, such as, Phil Fuemana, Ardijah, , OMC and Dawn Raid, helped to pave the way for those bristling with talent and ambition. 

So how did South Auckland turn from a grassroots musical hub into a dream factory? 

One of the forces that helped to fire up the Southside musical explosion was the Ōtara Music Arts Centre (OMAC) which fostered the careers of David Dallas, MC, Ōtara Millionaires Club (OMC), Cydel and others by providing a much-needed recording studio for musicians who did not have access to this kind of professional equipment. 

Radio stations like Niu FM, Mai FM, Flava, Radio 531pi, Soul FM and cropped up to spread their music across the streets of  South Auckland and beyond, and many of these stations helped to champion these artists by holding award nights, concerts and events. 

Perhaps the biggest change came from within the community though. Musical visionaries provided the belief and scaffolding to help local talent reach for something a little bigger. 

One such cultural catalyst was producer, musician and visionary Phil Fuemana, who can lay claim to producing OMC, Houseparty and starting Urban Pacifika Records. He knew all the musical talents in his neighborhood and helped musicians to come together, dream big and polish their songs for the international spotlight.  

Thanks to the tenacity, innate talent and determination of these South Auckland artists and champions, musicians now have access to a much bigger stage to play on, and our latest exhibition Volume South touches on this story.

One story we’d like to delve a little deeper into is that of the emerging talent coming from this corner of the world, so we decided to profile three up–and-coming acts that hail from the Southside. 


‘If a Māori girl from South Auckland is inspired to do ballet after seeing us then that’s great. We want to put the message out there that you don’t have to stick to the mould. Just do what feels right for you.’

Omer Gilroy, Singer 


Although this three-piece band is firmly rooted in Māngere and Papatoetoe, Vallkyrie chose to blaze their own path by producing a sound that’s a genre-twisting blend of rock, 80s guitar, pop and R ’n’ B.

Singer Omer Gilroy says stereotype-busting isn’t on their agenda, they just make music that feels good to them. ‘If a Māori girl from South Auckland is inspired to do ballet after seeing us then that’s great. We want to put the message out there that you don’t have to stick to the mould. Just do what feels right for you.’  

As an 11-year-old, Omer met her musical partner Rebel at Papatoetoe High School and throughout their formative years they would jam and create tracks for their school CD which was played regularly at assembly and dances. ’That school set me up for a career today. They are still producing those CDs, it is awesome.’  

For Gilroy and the band members, South Auckland is a place that they would never leave.   ’Even if we got a record deal in America, I would still live in South Auckland. It is like that place of comfort that you return to once you’ve been out on the town. You put your track-pants on and have a cup of tea with some super-wine biscuits.’ 

For the exhibition, Vallkyrie contributed their Steel Heart Necklace which is a sartorial nod to the Norse gladiatorial goddess, Valkyrie. ’That song was dedicated to the Breast Cancer Foundation and we really felt like this necklace played perfectly on having a soft heart encased in a hard steel cage.’  

Irene Folau

"I’m 275 born and bred. That is me and that is my life. I want to tell that story and tell that truth, and allow people to stand on my shoulders, so they can become giants."

Irene Folau, Singer  


Whiskey-voiced Irene Folau speaks quietly in conversation, though when asked to sing, she puts on her ‘big voice’ – which delivers a room-filling rich, mellifluous sound that leaves people stunned by its beauty. 

It’s one that has filled churches, school halls and, more recently, auditoriums since she won the solo vocalist category in the Stand Up, Stand Out competition in 2015, and again in 2016 with her rendition of ‘Crazy’, a performance that clocked up over 72,000 views on Facebook. 

She says ever since she learnt to talk, she’s been singing.  First gospel, then R ’n’ B and now jazz, ‘because I loved it and musically it’s quite hard, so I thought, I am going to do this’. Fortunately, she’s been taught by one of the strictest teachers – her grandfather – so discipline is something that is woven into her very nature. ‘My grandfather would stop the church mid-hymn and tell them to sing it right or not at all.’ Now at university, Irene plans to lead a dual life. ‘I plan to become a jazz-singing civil engineer,’ she laughs.

Telling her truth and giving voice to the stories of South Auckland is something that is very important to Irene. ‘There is so much in the media that is negative, yet there is so much talent out there that needs to be unleashed onto the world. I’m 275 born and bred. That is me and that is my life. I want to tell that story and tell that truth, and allow people to stand on my shoulders, so they can become giants.’ 



Songwriting provides an incredible outlet for the busy inner life of 22- year-old R ’n’ B singer Razé.  For the Volume South exhibition, she contributed her 2016 lyric book which holds her ‘thoughts, stories, experiences and those moments that I don’t want to forget’.​

Each of her notebooks shows a different chapter in her life. And each book provides a much-needed release for ‘spillage’. Journal writing has become an almost involuntary act, it’s something she feels compelled to do. It’s when she feels most alive. ‘It’s both scary and fun.’

Hailing from one of South Auckland’s talented musical families her sister Lavina was in 90s group Ma-V-Elle), she spent her time in a household with a radio blaring local R ’n’ B and in churches that rang to the sound of gospel, so channeling that inner life into a musical form came naturally. The spontaneous jam sessions and dance-offs at her family home set her on a path that she never want to jump off.

And after initially pursuing a professional hip-hop dancing career, Razé has taken a side step to develop her singing. Since then, she has completed a creative arts degree and produced several singles and stonking music videos (Tell Me Why, Round and Round and Drawn to You).  For now Razé’s building a following, performing every chance she gets – she recently opened for Aradhana – and in her downtime writing down the thoughts and feelings that knock around in her head.

Razé with her lyric book which features in the Volume South exhibition.