Jan Chandler recently had the opportunity of speaking with singer Patrice Tipoki whose career to date has included musical theatre, numerous gigs, and two years as a member of pop group Girlband.

Patrice Tipoki
Patrice Tipoki is a busy woman. She is currently on stage as Fantine in Cameron Mckintosh's production of Les Miserables and has just released her first album A Musical Heart. The album was recorded in her spare time, no doubt a rare commodity when you are performing on stage, managing a business and finding time for family.

Family is very important to Patrice and music has always been a major part of her life; given her Irish/Maori heritage this is perhaps not surprising. As a child she trained in voice, piano, saxophone, violin and dance. Whenever she was unwell and didn't have a voice, she poured all her energy into the violin. Her school teachers told her that she could do anything she wanted but 'I guess music was where we put all our time so that's where we've stayed'.

Patrice made her stage debut aged seven in a production of The King and I. When she was sixteen she was accepted into the musical theatre course at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA). The Brisbane Conservatorium had also offered her a place but she chose WAAPA because their course allowed her to do everything she wanted: voice, acting and dance. The three year course gave her time to hone her skills, as well as to think about what kind of a performer and person she wanted to be and where she wanted to be in the industry and the world.

After graduating from WAAPA, Patrice's first gig was the rock musical We Will Rock You. She covered all the female roles and had fun exploring her rock voice, just playing around to see 'what weird sounds could come out'. In 2006 she joined the pop group Girlband who released two hit singles Party Girl (2006) and Electric (2007), toured Australia with the Rogue Traders and TV Rock, and were signed with Sony BMG. She enjoyed working with other creative people and wrote a number of songs, some of which were picked up by overseas artists. She also learned about the dynamics of the recording industry and came to appreciate how important it was to her that she have control over her music. This control was what made the process of recording A Musical Heart so enjoyable and so much fun; for the first time she was running the show.

Cameron Mackintosh, speaking with Patrice about her musical family at the opening night of Les Miserables in Melbourne, suggested that she consider initiating a family project. A number of options were discussed but it was only when they began to talk about making an album that things finally began to fall into place. Patrice describes the process as 'an amazing journey because of all of the people and the way that we've been able to contribute together'. Working creatively with family, producer James Kempster, musicians including guitarist Doug DeVries and her sister Laura Tipoki (piano keyboards and accordion), as well as singers Simon Gleeson and Alex Boyé was 'a blessing'.

Each of the songs on the album has a special meaning for Patrice with most coming from musicals in which she's performed. Together with her sister Laura, they created new arrangements for all but one of the songs, Can You Feel the Love Tonight, for which Alex Boyé joined with them in re-arranging the song and singing with Patrice. There is a wonderful version of Queen's Somebody to Love which proves that this soprano can really rock, and a soulful rendition of Unchained Melody with her current co-star Simon Gleeson (Jean Valjean).

Asked about her Maori heritage Patrice says that it is really important to her, 'more important than I realise sometimes ... I just take for granted that it's part of who I am and dictates what I do'. 'I don't have the skin that some of my brothers and sisters have, or my family; I feel like I'm a bit of a 'whitey'' she laughs, so it sometimes takes comments from others to realise that there are some things which she automatically does differently. Still 'I know where I come from and love that and draw strength from that, especially with shows like The Lion King that are so grounded and so about tradition and family'. She and some other Kiwis in the Les Miserables cast have been known to perform an impromptu haka backstage. She is actively passing this heritage on to her children, as her parents did for her, because 'I think to know where you came from can really strengthen you for where you want to go'.

And what about the future? Patrice is currently immersed in her role as Fantine in Les Miserables. For her, musical theatre is special because it 'combines all the genres that I enjoy … singing, acting, dancing and telling a story'. And then there's A Musical Heart to promote and she hopes the album will give as much pleasure to others as they all had in creating it. Looking further ahead there are some recording opportunities, yet to be finalised, and there is always writing which she would love to get back to. However this is currently on the back burner, with her present focus being on work and family. 'There are some exciting things around the corner and I'm looking forward to whatever may be.'

Patrice Tipoki's debut album 'A Musical Heart' is now available on iTunes. Visit: www.patricetipoki.com

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