Berlin-based Tongan-New Zealand soul singer and producer Noah Slee has followed up his debut album Otherland with a short film based on the music and its themes. He speaks to Yadana Saw about how he plucked up the courage to try his hand at filmmaking.
Noah Slee is speaking to us from the quietest spot he can find in a busy Apple Store in Brooklyn, New York.
“I look like a complete weirdo, I hope they don’t think I am a terrorist.
I look like a kid having time out in the corner.”
After we establish that we can clearly hear each other, and that Noah isn’t looking to be a danger to public safety we begin to talk about his visual album And So, We Move to Otherlands.
It’s his “love story” to dance, a medium he loves as much as music. The short film takes place across four different cities to tell the story of migration ("actual movement in the way of actually moving to another city") through dance and Noah’s music.
“It’s an ode to the elders I grew up with, like my grandparents were definitely involved with teaching us the language, song and dance and a lot of growing up Polynesian is you’re surrounded by singing and dancing and this type of energy. I wanted to portray that…”
Each piece “connects to some kind of growth or movement or change. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to sit down with the dance groups and explain what the songs mean to me and what it’s trying to say and the importance of trying to create resolution from their movements.”
The film features poet and performance artist Jahra Rager Wasasala on a west coast beach, dance crews in Australia, a solo performer twirling and popping in nighttime Los Angeles, FAFSWAG crew flexing and folding on a suburban Auckland Street all to Noah’s music.
Noah explains,” a lot of the themes explore diaspora and where we fit as young Polynesian artists in this world.
I ultimately wanted people to feel that there’s a movement and there’s a phrase at the end that kinda wraps it up.”
In Aotearoa, Noah Slee is primarily known as a musician, but his interest in visual storytelling and filmmaking began here, through his old band Spacifix that once had a TV show called Henderson To Hollywood.
“I was quite heavily involved with the concepts for the video or at least trying to defend my concepts with my old team. It was only natural for me to try this world of visual work and films.”
Though realising his film vision was intimidating for the first time director ,as sponsorship and label support was minimal to non-existent.
“The whole time I was making it I didn’t want to release it but I’m glad I did. I was so close to dropping the whole thing.”
Noah credits his new-ish home of Berlin as giving him a confidence he wouldn’t have otherwise found in himself. “The social climate of the city allows me to go places mentally, emotionally and artistically - it’s mind-blowing.”
“You never have to explain what you are really doing, people just respect it and are more open to hearing about it.”
He laughs as he contrasts Berlin to other cities he’s lived and grown up in. “To be an artist and live off it is a rarity, you spend half of your time explaining your existence as an artist and how you survive.
It’s also the city where Noah has finally “felt the liberation” to be himself.
“I feel like the slate is completely clear. I can tell the story as a queer Polynesian man.”
Albeit, an exotic one in a European city, he concedes.
“It is true that people perceive me as exotic, in a way that is what I am. I never bump into any Polynesians in Berlin, it’s super rare.” But being “exotic can have its downfall because people fetishise you, in a way.”
When responding to the question of whether And So, We Move to Otherlands is the antipodean version of Beyonce’s Lemonade, Noah laughs and says he is envious of Queen Bey’s budget “to basically create whatever she wants.”
He adds that amongst his coterie of artistically minded friends,”delving into this world of visual storytelling.”
“I guess we’re all following through on where Michael Jackson started.”