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Musician’s death in US highlights Pōle‘o brothers’ contribution to electric band music

The death of Tongan musician ‘Ulise Pōle’o has drawn special attention to how much the Pōle’o brothers contributed to electric band music in the Pacific.

‘Ulise, 59, died in Washington on Monday April 4 from what appeared to be a heart attack.

‘Ulise Pōle’o

The exceptional musician is being remembered together with his late two brothers Foni Pōle’o and Vaka Pōle’o for the music styles, tunes and lyrics they composed and recorded.

Their music was widely popular not only with the Tongan community, but the Samoans and the Fijians and other ethnicities in the US.

This included ‘Ulise’s album Love Is All We Need and Foni’s Warrior of Love and the song Hūlita.

It is believed ‘Ulise’s album Love Is All We Need remained top of  the Pacific charts for years in New Zealand.

‘Ulise’s re-recording of the Tongan song Funga Sia in the 1990s, which was previously recorded by its writer Spencer Fusimālohi, became a big hit and is still being popularly played by young Tongan solo performers musicians nowadays.

‘Ulise’s use of the widely used Tongan chord progression of sliding the chords from the perfect fifth to the perfect fourth before arriving at the tonic chord added sentiment and fervour to the song.

His other Tongan songs included ‘Eva Mai, which was very popular.

‘Ulise and his brothers had their own band known as Fafangu Koula ‘O Pakilau in the 1980s before they split and operated their own band before ‘Ulise moved to the US.

‘Ulise, who was believed to begin playing guitar when he was nine-year-old, was described as being very difficult to teach on how to play the instrument because he was left-handed. However, he managed to teach himself to play lead guitar and he was later described as one of the top reggae guitarists in Tonga.

The brothers toured Tonga in the 1980s together with legendary Fijian musician the late Sakiusa Bulicokocoko.

 Hawai’ian Reggae artist Siaosi described ‘Ulise as “a big influence on many Tongan reggae artists”.

Siaosi, who re-recorded ‘Eva Mai said ‘Ulise was “credited for bringing reggae music to Tonga and gained popularity in Hawai’i during the 80s and 90s for masterfully blending reggae music and Tongan”.

Siaosi recalls, “Growing up in Hawai’i Ulise was one of only a few Tongan artists on the radio. Watching the effect his music made on not only Tongans in Hawai’i but all of Hawai’i gave me the confidence that I could do it too.”

‘Ulise’s death has been widely shared online.

Sione Tu’itahi, a former broadcaster, author and health promotion professional said it was shocking to hear ‘Ulise had died.

“It is a great loss to Tonga in the field of music,” Tu’itahi said.

 Tu’itahi said ‘Ulise was of the same status as Foni and Vaka.

They were top punakes in the electric band music industry.

Tu’itahi said there were musicians of all times in Nuku’alofa during the 1970s and 1980s.

The Pōle’o were unique as they had good voices and had their own appealing style of playing the instrument, he said.

Vaka and Foni were also graphic designers.

‘Ulise is survived by his wife ‘Ilisa and their children.