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Musical Island Boys

Musical Island Boys, Jeff Hunkin - Tenor, Marcellus Washburn - Lead, Matt Gifford - Bass and Will Hunkin - Baritone, are a barbershop quartet. They won an award as the best a cappella group ever to reign from the Southern Hemisphere. Read about their lives, their success as a group, and how they enjoy working together.

Tell us a bit about yourselves, who you are, where you’re from, and what schools did you attend?

Jeff My name is Jeff Hunkin and I’m 23 years old. I was born and raised in Wellington city (the best city in New Zealand!) and went to St Francis Xavier in Tawa, then Tawa Intermediate and finally onto Tawa College. I then studied at Victoria University and recently completed a Bachelor of Arts in Music & Media Studies.

Singing and music are my passion, but I also like being active, heading to the gym and playing indoor netball. My brother Will and I are of Samoan/Niuean ethnicity and are proud to represent both our Pacific Island heritage and our kiwi upbringing.

Lusa My name is Marcellus (or samoan Maselusa) Washburn but everyone knows me by Lusa. I am full samoan (My mum is from the island Savai’i in and my dad is from the village Fa’atoia) and there is little bit Irish somewhere in my last name. I am a NZ born Samoan and have lived in Porirua most of my life. I attended Windley Primary and then went to Tawa Intermediate, Tawa College and then Victoria Uni.

Matt Matt Gifford, and I was born in Tokoroa. My mum is of Māori descent from Tama Te Rangi subtribe of Ngāti Kahungunu ki Te Wairoa. My dad is from the island of Penrhyn, in the Cook Islands. I went Kohanga Reo in Auckland, then to the bilingual unit at Kingsford Primary School in Papatoe and then total immersion at Pukekohe North School.

I studied my first 3 years of high school at Palmerston North Boys High and the last two years of high school at Tawa College, where I met up with the other boys.

Will My name is Will Hunkin, and I attended St Francis Xavier Primary School in Tawa from 1990 to 1996, Tawa Intermediate from 1997 – 1998 and Tawa College from 1999 to 2003.

What is going on in your lives?

Jeff We’re a group that finds time to rehearse and sing for the enjoyment of others. We’re now coming into our 9th year of singing together, and have formed a very strong bond between us. We try to fit our rehearsals and performances around our day jobs and other commitments, but a busy lifestyle helps us to get as much out of our days as we can.

Lusa As well as singing with MIB I am currently a youth worker. I manage a transitional home for young men to help bring stability, and structure to their life.

Matt I am currently working for the Ministry of Education, in the Te reo Māori Schooling group. I also do a lot of coaching for other barbershop quartets and choruses, and plan to return to pursue further study at University in 2011. My ultimate academic goal is to pursue education that will further enable me to contribute to society, with a focus on Māori and Pasifika communities.

Will I am currently working for Trade Me in the Jobs department, helping recruiters find the right applicants for work, as well as answering enquiries people might have about our website. It is a very enjoyable place to work, and considering we have over 2 million members, it is also a very busy place to work!

Who/what are the biggest influences in your lives?

Jeff This is a tough one but I’d have to say first and foremost my parents who guided me through the most important parts of my life (growing up and working out what it means to be an adult – which is something we all struggle with even today!); musical influences include the legendary Michael Jackson, Usher, Boyz II Men and a ton of other R‘n’B artists who really knew how to express emotion through their soulful music.

Lusa My family (including my g/f hehe). They have always supported me through life and have always kept me humble and always wanting to do more to make them proud. God, because he always remembers me and never leaves and even though I make mistakes still loves me.

Matt My parents have been influential, as have the many teachers, mentors and coaches I have had during my life.

Will That is a big question – I think everyone has been influential in my life to a certain extent. In terms of my music, my father is my primary influence, who taught my siblings and I to sing in 3 part harmony while he played guitar, and our love of singing took off from there.

My music teacher influences included Sharon Fletcher Thorburn, who was my Intermediate music teacher at the time, and taught us about singing from the heart.

My college music teachers, Charlotte and Shona Murray, had a large impact on the range of musical influences that were available to me through college, encouraging me to take part in as many musical groups as possible.

I also grew up listening to a lot of R&B influences including Brian Mkcnight, Boyz II Men, Usher, Luther Vandross etc. Many of the singers that inspired me have great vocal acrobatics, as well as very high levels of musical artistry.

What are some of the major achievements recently and in years past?

Jeff We just got back from the US, where we placed 4th in the world in the Barbershop Harmony Society contest. Barbershop quartets from around the world compete for the top spot, and we were privileged and honored to be named in the Top 5 in the world. In 2006 we won the Gold at the University-level World Championships for Barbershop quartet singing.

Lusa Travelling oversea’s is a big achievement especially for an island kid from porirua. Winning NZ secondary schools barbershop competition, which led onto NZ Mens gold medalist which led onto us being the 2006 international under 25 collegiate champions, and now the most current 4th place international open men’s medalist quartet in the world.

Matt Like the others said, winning the World U25’s and coming 4th in Philly this year are both huge achievements – competition wise. Also, the opportunity to travel and meet so many people from all around the world.

Will We won the 2006 International U25 Collegiate Barbershop Competition, and were the first from outside the USA to do so. We also ranked as one of the Top 10 barbershop Quartets in the World in 2009, placing 10th at the International Barbershop Harmony Society Competition.
This year in 2010, we ranked as one of the Top 5, finishing 4th in the International Barbershop Harmony Society Competition. This makes us currently the 4th best ranked barbershop quartet on the planet today.

What do you like to do when you’re not singing?

Jeff My day is usually split between work, music and the gym. I pay the bills by working for Trade Me, the online auction site, as an account manager for their travel department – it’s a great place to work with tons of interesting and fun people! At other times I work on my own recordings at home in my ‘studio’ (it’s really just a spare bedroom with my music stuff inside); spend quality time with my partner; and rehearse with the other Musical Island Boys. If I have any spare time left I like playing sport or working out.

Lusa Sports. I enjoying rugby union/league, touch, volley, table tennis, basket ball. I also enjoy playing instruments, playing in brass bands, full house bands. I always kick back with my family and girlfriend.

Matt I usually travel with barbershop coaching, or spend time with friends and family. I’m also a certified Zumba instructor, so I try to keep fit where and when possible!

Will Catch up on sleep haha! And I read a lot, I try to learn at least one new interesting thing a year. I also study pretty hard and try to learn as much as I can about what it is that I’m doing!

Is being Pasifika/Māori males influential in how you approach your work? That is the people you try to reach in your music or the strength you gain from being role models in your community?

Jeff It is definitely influential in what we do and how we approach our music. One of the key messages we try to pass on to our youth is that whatever you want to be, whether it be a singer, dancer or sportsperson, as long as you have a dream and are willing to give it 110%, it IS achievable.

It’s a cliché, but we never thought we’d get to do all the things we’ve done, as we all come from very humble backgrounds. Keep that dream at the top of your thoughts and it WILL come true. That’s a guarantee!

Lusa Absolutely. I think being a P.I growing up in church with family, singing the samoan hymns in harmony its apart of our culture. Our audience and especially our young P.I/Maori people love the sound of harmony at its best because they have grown up in music.

We communicate and take it a step further by making them feel apart of the music by making sure that we are immersed in what we are singing about. We stay true to who we are and stay true to the music because it is apart of our culture.

Matt Probably both. I think being grounded in identity is the basis upon which we build and celebrate our successes – firstly as Māori/Pasifika people – and then everything else falls subsidiary to that. Our cultural heritage also carries an intrinsic sense of responsibility, in that we must acknowledge the unique role we hold in our communities and then behave accordingly – both within the quartet and otherwise.

Will Of course! I think there is a general perception out there (based on statistics, not on reality) that Pacific Islanders and Maoris are less fortunate. The problem is not that this is a perception, the problem is that people buy into it and don’t know any better!

In my experience, this perception is far from true – I have met a great deal of Pasifika/Maori males (and females!) who are working hard to make a positive influence in their communities, and I think we should promote these people more, and focus on what they are doing right rather than always reporting on the negative side of things.

With all that being said, I think that the best way for any Pasifika/Maori person, male or female, to be influential in their communities, is to get out there and work hard to succeed in their chosen fields, and keep the young people in the loop – show that there’s no ‘disadvantages’ to being of brown skin, that your integrity towards your work and your own self-respect is far more important than what people think of you or perceive you to be.

What are the groups goals for the short term? And long term, what are your dreams?

Jeff Short term: become the best barbershop quartet in the world. Long term: sing and entertain audiences all around the world, using our music to show the world what four young Pacific Island boys can achieve.

Lusa Short Term goal would be to become the first international open men’s champions. I think a long term goal would be to be the best performers we can be both National and International. To leave our trade mark so that people in the future would be able to recognize us and be inspired to reach further in life and grab hold of their dreams with both hands.

Matt Winning the International Barbershop Competition. Long term – like Lusa said, to be remembered for the people that we were and our contribution not only to barbershop, but by bringing happiness and quality of life to others through our music (oh, and to become rich and famous! Hehe).

Will We ultimately want to win the International Barbershop Competition – we haven’t really thought too far ahead after that!! I guess singing the national anthem at the World Cup would be great as well.

What advice can you give to young people who might want to get into your line of work?

Jeff Find a leader in your community or school who is passionate about barbershop singing, and find like-minded individuals who are keen to sing as well. Get a group together, start singing, and get the snowball rolling!

Lusa If you are dedicated and motivated to accomplish what is in front of you then dream big. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what people may think. If you have faith in yourself, you are able to win and let hard work, determination and passion follow you.

Matt Find like minded friends who want to do the same thing, and find a teacher/coach to help you! No matter how good you get (even at our level) we still need consistent guidance and coaching to continue to push us onwards and upwards.

Will To set goals – have some direction in your life! Foster cooperation and a sense of teamwork towards a common purpose in your group, as everything you want to achieve in life is done with and through people.

If everyone is moving in the same direction, you are far more likely to be successful. Support everyone who is helping you and encourage others to try their best as well.

Stay around people that believe in you and what you are doing, and give back once you have reached a certain level. Remain down to earth as well and never give up!

What is one most embarrassing moment you are able to share?

Jeff Years ago when we had just got together, we were being invited on stage to sing by Tofiga from the brilliant ‘Laughing Samoans’. He was in the middle of introducing us when the audience starting cheering and clapping at something he’d said (he hadn’t got to us yet).

I was first out and thought he had introduced us so I walked out like a champ, smiling and waving to the audience.

He stared at me and so did everyone else. I looked back once I was next to Tofiga and noticed the others hadn’t walked out behind me. I stood next to Tofia for the next 30 seconds while he introduced our group.

Not the worst that could happen, but pretty embarrassing in front of 1,000 people!

Lusa I was one of the popular cool boys who didn’t have any embarrassing moments. hehe

Matt …don’t think I have one?!

Will I usually try not to do anything embarrassing! Nothing much about that to share unfortunately. Although forgetting the words to some of our songs during gigs (and covering them up with different words that fit!) could be classed as pretty embarrassing, but then again no-one really notices if you sing well and have a smile on your face the whole time.

Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share?

Jeff There is a thought out there that when guys sing, it’s “funny”, or it’s not “cool”. I’d like to say that everyone I’ve met – boys, (especially) girls, everyone from all walks of life, from all around New Zealand, Australia, and America, appreciate and enjoy when I and the quartet sing and absolutely LOVE it.

It’s a common misconception that if you’re a guy that’s in a choir, or in a singing group, you’re not one of the “cool” guys.

Take no notice of those that put you down – the simple fact is that they wish they too could sing; they too wish they had the confidence to perform like that in front of others.

Keep your head held high in all that you do, and show everyone that no matter what they think, you love what you do and you’re proud to stand on that stage and show the world what you’ve got!

Lusa To succeed you need hard work, motivation, and passion. You will fall but it is how you get back up that really defines who you are.

Matt Always try and be the best that you can be in whatever you do.

Will Best of luck for whatever you young people want to do, and have integrity and pride in your work. The greatest satisfaction in life is having done something, and done it well and to the best of your ability. So give it your all, and nothing less than the very best in whatever you do.

We want to thank you guys for giving of your time today, ngā mihi ki a koutou.

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