Nine years after it was first recorded, ‘Vote Efeso Collins’ is still a fixture at the Auckland mayoral hopeful’s campaign appearances. Sela Jane Hopgood discovers how the jingle came to be.
It’s the best local election campaign jingle to ever grace this country’s PA systems. It has over 10,000 views on YouTube and a chorus that goes “If you want to vote for a party, Labour Party is the party, yeah, yeah…” And it’s based on a sample of a track by South Auckland hip hop artist Devolo, which means “devil” in Tongan – somewhat ironic given that the subject of the jingle, politician Fa’anānā Efeso Collins, is so active in his local Christian church.
When I was given a mission to track down the masterminds behind the Auckland councillor’s beloved campaign jingle, my first plan of action was to simply send Collins a text. That wasn’t too hard, I thought. He responded immediately, giving me the mobile number of one of the two musicians involved, Vincent Niutama.
It was 4:08pm when I sent the text. It was after 6pm when I debated whether I should call Niutama after work hours. At 8:45pm he responded and agreed to share the story behind ‘Vote Efeso Collins’. I was on my way to finding out the story behind the song, including who came up with the line comparing an unknown city council hopeful to the then president of the United States.
Niutama is a 34-year-old youth worker with a Christian NGO called Good Seed Trust. He has love for the Ōtara streets where he was raised, a passion for his church and a dedication to motivating future generations. He and his older cousin Karl Tusini-Rex, who worked on the jingle with him, were both members of a youth group that Collins once led at the Living Water Baptist Church in Ōtara. It was there that Niutama and Tusini-Rex formed a hip hop-gospel-rap duo they called The Church Boiiz.
When Collins decided to stand for the Ōtara-Papatoetoe local board in 2013, he didn’t ask The Church Boiiz to create him a campaign song. The track was the Niuean cousins’ own idea, and just a bit of fun, Niutama says. “When we heard Efeso was running… we decided to make a song for him. Fes, as we call him, asked us to perform at one of his campaign events for the Labour Party and after that, we went to my home studio where we make music and Karl and I began freestyling whatever came to mind when we would think of Efeso.”
Their lyrics focused on Collins’ work with his local South Auckland community. They include the lines “his name is from the Bible, the book of Ephesians, his call is to lead, all of us Polynesians” and “never undercover, always out in the community, he’s helping out Pacific youth and families.”
For the backbone of the jingle, the duo sampled ‘Somebody’, a track by South Auckland rapper Devolo, “because it suited the way we would chant Fes’s name,” Niutama says.
“To be honest, it didn’t take us that long to create the song,” he says.
Niutama and Tusini-Rex sent the track to Collins, who instantly loved it, telling them that he would use it for his council campaign – a welcome surprise for the pair.
After talking to Niutama, I get back in touch with Collins, a “big and mighty” guy, as the song puts it, who stands at well over six feet tall. He recalls the moment he first told his wife about this campaign song his friends had sent him out of the blue. “We laughed immediately and then we had a moment – a caring moment – where we realised wow, people are willing to invest in us in this way. It just showed how precious those years [with the youth group members] were, how much fun we had and how close our friendship was. We are like brothers.”
Once Collins was confident he was going to use the song, Niutama and Tusini-Rex got in touch with Devolo and Danny “Brotha D” Leaosavai’i, co-owner of Devolo’s label Dawn Raid, to seek permission for the use of the sample. “The last thing we wanted is for them to come knocking on our door and take us to court. We just had to declare that we weren’t going to make money out of this and that it was strictly for promotional and entertainment purposes,” Niutama says.
The Church Boiiz’ style is upbeat and positive, combining hip hop with Polynesian humour – as demonstrated by tongue-in-cheek lyrics like “Efeso Collins is a Polynesian version of Obama.” When I ask Collins what he thought about that comparison, he chuckles and looks up to the ceiling. “That’s a lovely dream.”
“Obama’s ‘Yes We Can’ campaign really resonated with me and I guess him being an African American president, a leader of colour, I can relate to that, so I see why the boys would throw that line in.” Collins admits the line prompted some criticism – “people have said ‘who does Efeso think he is, comparing himself to Obama?’ but I promise you, that wasn’t the case.”
As for his own musical abilities, Collins says that while he used to lead praise and worship at his church, he was never the first choice. “When everyone went on holiday and they were desperate, they would ask me to play the guitar,” he laughs.
“My father is very musical and my mum loves to sing. My sister is the most musically talented out of all my siblings as she can play the flute and piano, whereas I can show up and pluck a few strings when needed.”
With Collins confirming to The Spinoff that he’s planning to stand for the Auckland mayoralty in November, is a revamped version of the nine-year-old jingle on its way? Absolutely, says Niutama. “This time we’re going to include words like ‘mayor’ and take out stuff that’s not relevant, maybe add some things about his new journey and also encourage people to select Efeso.”
This is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.