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Rotorua’s famous jazz band

December 14, 2010

Imagine a jazz band in Rotorua, the smell of Whakarewarewa in their nostrils, performing a Maori pop song in dixie style. The year is 1930. I mentioned ‘E Puritai Tama’, its writer Kingi Tahiwi and its recording in Sydney by his three siblings. Another recording of it is just a crucial to New Zealand’s pop music history. Epi Shalfoon – the Maori-Lebanese musician originally from Opotiki – was Rotorua’s top band leader before he emigrated to Auckland for his long stint at the Crystal Palace Ballroom, Mt Eden. In 1930 he decided to use the new medium – sound film – to promote his dance band. They hired a film crew, browned up, and performed for the camera. The results were crude, and the sound so disappointing that Epi sued the film company and won. Nevertheless, it’s New Zealand’s first jazz recording, and so much more.

But it’s intriguing that he chose ‘E Puritai Tama’ as one of the songs, so soon after its recording by the Tahiwis. When visiting Rangi Parker – singer with the Shevelles, the Maori Supremes – I was delighted to be with her as she watched this clip and sang along. I could hear why she was a a favourite of Dalvanius. Join in: 

Epi Shalfoon and His Melody Boys, 1930
One Comment leave one →
  1. John Pickworth permalink
    March 12, 2011 9:28 am

    My father knew Epi Shalfoon in either Opotiki or Whakatane,and helped him at dances-selling tickets etc.
    My father was a grocer & I think Epi was too.
    I know Julian Lee & Frank Gibson(snr) worked with Epi in Aickland.

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