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The $10,000 Senior Pacific Artist Award was presented to Lemalu's parents, Foalima and Tasi Lemalu, of Dunedin, on his behalf by Arts Culture and Heritage Minister Chris Finlayson last Thursday.
The Samoan bass-baritone was honoured for his contribution to New Zealand classical music.
Lemalu was born and raised in Dunedin and won the 1996 Otago Daily Times Aria, before studying at the Royal College of Music in London.
Now based in London, he has forged a successful international career and has performed in many of the world's great opera houses.
The annual awards were established by Creative New Zealand in 1996 to celebrate excellence and innovation in Pacific arts.