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Tau Moe Family

The story of the Tau Moe Family is perhaps one of the most incredible 20th century traveling musician stories to be found anywhere, a veritable Odyssey around the world.

Tau and Rose Moe (pronounced Mo-ay) performed together as husband and wife for over 61 years and for many years with their children Lani and Dorian. Tau, born in Samoa in 1908, was raised in Laie, a small community on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii. He played music from early childhood. Rose, born in 1908, was the youngest daughter of the Kaohu family of the Kohala district on the big Island. Her family was musical, her childhood steeped in traditional music and dancing.

Young Tau became professionally interested in music and played with many artists, including M.K. Moke, John Almeida, and David Kaili, who were to become legends of Hawaiian music. Tau seems to have absorbed earlier styles, though the musicians he knew spanned the first and second generation of steel players.

In 1927, Rose joined a troupe of musicians featuring Tau and his three uncles. The group, Mme. Riviere's Hawaiians (managed by a French university professor), toured extensively in Asia from 1928 to 1934. They performed in Japan, China, Southeast Asia, Philippines, India, Burma, and Indonesia. The show included Hawaiian and Samoan music, dancing, and native "rituals." Mme. Riviere traveled in intellectual circles, and on eday in 1932 she took Tau to meet Mahatma Ghandi, an experience which made an impression on the young, but very curious Tau.

In 1929, the group recorded eight songs in Tokyo for American release. Rare today, these records were purely ethnic in style with traditional accompaniment of guitars, uke, steel guitar, and beautiful vocals led by Rose's falsetto singing. The records clearly show the influences of the period before 1915 without sounding like the more modern styles being recorded by other Hawaiians in 1929. They therefore give us a deep look back into what Hawaiian music sounded like up to and even over a century ago.

Lani, the son of Tau and Rose, was born in Tokyo in 1929. By 1934, in Shanghai, the Mme. Riviere tour broke up. Lani, at age five (already a signer, dancer, and ukulele player), joined his parents to form a trio. In Shanghai, "Ua Like No Ua Like," "Samoan Moon," and "Aloha Means I Love You" were recorded by Tau and Rose, in 1934. As of the recording of REMEMBERING THE SONGS OF OUR YOUTH, the Moe's award-winning 1989 release with Bob Brozman, there were no known surviving copies, and therefore the arrangements of these songs on the album were re-created only by the grace of Tau's excellent memory. Tau's memory was proven to be perfect, as years later Bob found one of the Shanghai recordings.

After working as a trio in India for several months, the Moes traveled to Egypt, arriving nearly broke, in late 1935. First finding work in Alexandria, they performed in Egypt's larger cities through 1936. From 1936-1938, their journey took them through Syria, Palestine, Turkey, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Poland, Russia, France, and Germany! During the late 1930's, Tau had become quite popular in Germany. In fact, one night after a show, he was obliged to meet Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, and company. Tau was friends with many Jewish musicians, whom he helped in leaving Germany. He himself was advised by the American embassy to leave Germany as war loomed.

The outbreak of WWII forced them to flee Europe entirely. They settled briefly in Lebanon, but thern Italy declared war there. They worked their way further east in the Middle East, boarding a ship at Bagdhad in the hope of going home to Hawaii. However, Pearl Harbor had just been bombed and the Pacific Ocean was closed for travel, so the Moe family settled in India for the rest of the war years. Tau organized bands and orchestras for the top hotels in the major cities of India, employing a multi national group of musicians, all on the move because of the war. He would transcribe for performance the latest songs from musical films, watching the films several times in order to write down the melodies, chords, and words. Daughter Dorian was born in 1945 and soon was part of the act: dancing, singing, and later playing the guitar. In the late 1940s, after many engagements in principle Indian cities, the Moe family returned to Europe.

The Moe quartet worked in every Western European country, as well as Japan and Australia, through the 1950s and 1960s, recording, performing, and appearing in television and films. Their music became more modern, as can be heard on their many European recordings, the last one having been released in Yugoslavia in 1982.

The family continued touring together in Asia, Australia, and the U.S. mainland. In the late 1970s, Tau decided more that five decades on the road was enough. The whole family retired to Laie, Tau's childhood home. Tau's musical lifetime, already many times more intense, traveled, and long-lived than most, was to come full circle with his final recording, with Bob Brozman, in 1988. He spent the rest of his life receiving many awards, and enjoying the contact from old fans from around the world.

Read Bob's account of the exciting conclusion to Tau's story, and how Bob and the Tau Moe Family were united to record HO'OMANA'O I NA MELE O KA WA U'I - REMEMBERING THE SONGS OF OUR YOUTH, winner of the Library of Congress Award.

Rose Moe passed away in 2000, and Tau Moe passed away at age 95, in 2004.

Tau and Rose Moe with their son, Lani, in 1937
Tau (left) and Rose (far right) Moe with their son, Lani, in 1937

In 1988 (L-R): Lani, daughter Dorian, Bob, Rosa and Tau
In 1988 (L-R): Lani, daughter Dorian, Bob, Rosa and Tau

Link to info about Remembering the Songs of Our Youth
Bob and the Tau Moe Family


More about Bob's work in Hawaii, home of Tau Moe

More info about REMEMBERING THE SONGS OF OUR YOUTH, the historical and award-winning CD featuring Bob and the Tau Moe family.

More about Ledward Kapaana, also from Hawaii

More about Cyril Pahinui, also from Hawaii