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Star hits the right notes

Makoura College student Jerome Lopa. PHOTO/SUPPLIED


Erin Kavanagh-Hall

On behalf of Makoura College

Jerome Lopa’s vocal talents have won hearts both at home and across the ditch, and now he has been honoured by the Masterton community for his contribution to music.

The Makoura College student was presented with the Beat Street award at the Masterton District Council Civic and Youth Awards last month.

The youth categories at the awards, organised by Wairarapa Youth Council, recognised young people aged 12 to 24 who have achieved significant milestones in the last year, or have provided service to their communities. The Beat Street Award recognises young people who have “made an outstanding contribution in the area of arts, music or culture”.

The awards were also a family affair for Jerome – as his uncle Luther Toloa, a former Masterton police officer, was honoured for his work on the Bring It To Colombo netball courts renovation project.

Jerome, 15, has lent his soulful voice and expert guitar skills to a range of Masterton community events, most recently at this year’s Waitangi Day celebrations, where he got to open for his favourite band.

He also got a taste of international exposure, when he performed at Gizzy Day, a popular music festival in Brisbane.

Jerome said he was “blown away” to receive the award.

“I wasn’t expecting it – I thought I was just going [to the awards ceremony] as a nominee.

“When they announced I’d won, I was like, “oh, what? Really?!’

“It feels great to be supported by the community and my family.”

Jerome, of Tokelauan and Ngati Porou descent, comes from a “very musical family, on both sides”.

He has been interested in music from a young age, discovering his father’s old ukuleles at age five, eventually learning to play the guitar.

He is also a gifted singer, drawing inspiration from soulful favourites Ed Sheeran, Stan Walker and Stevie Wonder.

As well as his favourite genres of reggae, RnB and pop, Jerome is also proficient in waiata and traditional Tokelauan music.

“I’m working on writing my own stuff at the moment,” he said.

“I really hope I can do this as a career.”

Jerome and younger sister Lynnal often perform as a duo, and have been regular fixtures at local events such as the Twelve Nights of Christmas, Christmas in the Park festivals, and various talent quests. In 2016, they booked themselves a gig at Wellington’s Pasifika Festival, performing both traditional and contemporary Tokelauan music, as a nod to their heritage.

Jerome said performing in front of such a large crowd was “an awesome experience”.

But his biggest thrill to date has been at Waifest, last month’s bi-cultural festival at Queen Elizabeth Park, where he was the support act for his musical heroes, Wellington reggae band Tomorrow People, whose latest EP reached Number 1 on the NZ Top 40 Albums Chart.

“That was really cool.

“We got to meet them backstage, and have our photos taken.”

A lot of exposure for such a young musician – but Jerome remains modest and unassuming about his successes.

“I just like to sing for the community. If they ask me to sing, I’ll do it – it’s good to help people out.”

At the moment, Jerome is working with his music teacher, Eileen Scott, to hone his skills, and looks forward to performing with Makoura College’s band at Tangata Beats, a nationwide music competition for Maori and Pasifika youth.

Makoura College deputy principal Kellas Bennett, who was one of Jerome’s nominees for his award, said Jerome is “a wonderful ambassador” for the school.

“Getting this kind of exposure, and playing for all these different crowds and exploring different genres has really helped him grow in confidence,” Mr Bennett said.

“He’s an outstanding young man – he’s going places.”


Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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