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Tangata whenua gives the main impetus to the musical taonga of Aotearoa

By Marty Jones*

Opinion – This week marked the end of New Zealand Music Month, an initiative that has been going on for over 20 years now.

It’s a national celebration, highlighting local artists and the great music they make.

Top left: Bic Runga, Troy Kingi, Ria Hall and Stan Walker.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Faanati Mamea/Meek Zuidewyk/Provided

For many, it brings back memories of Shihad playing in Aotea Square, or anyone you know owning one of those Hallensteins circular logo t-shirts. Or just when you discovered a new act that you now love.

When we think about New Zealand Music Month and the state of the industry, there’s something that’s at the heart of our local music success, and that’s how tangata whenua’s waiata have summer and will continue to be our greatest musical taonga.

Six60 performs the first concert at Eden Park, broadcast to 11 Pacific Island countries.

Six60 in concert at Eden Park.
Photo: Supplied/Six60

In numbers, our biggest streaming and touring artists are currently Maori composers and musicians; Six60, LAB, Stan Walker, Katchafire, Sons of Zion, Fat Freddy’s Drop and Kings.

And beyond that, some of our most beloved artists of the last 10 to 20 years are Maori artists; Anika Moa, Bic Runga, Che Fu, KORA, Marlon Williams, Tiki Taane, Trinity Roots and many more.

Watch Marlon Williams sing My Boy

It’s a recurring thread in our country’s musical lineage that has continued from the beginning and through artists like Prince Tui Teka, Sir Howard Morrison, Patea Māori Club, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Herbs, Upper Hutt Posse and many more. others.

Watch the Patea Māori Club play Poi E

It should come as no surprise that the most popular and resonant music in our country is the music of the locals. It was the pūoro Māori who attracted international cultural interest to Aotearoa, with kapa haka and later showbands touring the world with great success and success.

Long-running kapa haka have been performing locally and internationally for over 60 years and the explosion of Māori showbands in the 1960s saw groups like the Māori Hi-Fives tour internationally and take up residence at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, years before the likes of Celine Dion, Elton John and Adele would follow this tradition.

This incredible wealth of talent comes from a rich history of creative arts, supported by festivals like Te Matatini and educational practices like kura kaupapa Māori. These, and many other important initiatives, provide great opportunities for the development of creative individuals and their connection to Māoritanga.

Despite their holistic and unique cultural value, Te Matatini’s government funding is only $2.9 million a year, while the Royal NZ Ballet receives $8.1 million a year and the NZSO $19.7 million. dollars per year.

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Bic Runga
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Fortunately, puoro Māori has always had its champions over the years, with the support of organizations such as Te Māngai Pāho and thanks to people such as Dame Hinewehi Mohi, Moana Maniapoto, Hirini Melbourne, Sir Timoti Karetu, Bub Wehi, Tuini Ngāwai and many others. all the way back to Sir Āpirana Ngata.

In 1999, Mohi took pūoro Māori to the world when she sang the national anthem in te reo Māori in front of millions at the Rugby World Cup. It’s hard to imagine it being sung differently now, but back then it challenged the status quo of an English-only anthem and demonstrated, alongside another globally recognized cultural icon (the haka ), how important Māoritanga is to Aotearoa’s identity on the world stage.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - NOVEMBER 15: Hinewehi Mohi performs on stage during the Raukatauri Music Therapy Center Charity Auction at Auckland City Hall on November 15, 2008 in Auckland, New Zealand.  (Photo by Subject/WireImage)

Dame Hinewehi Mohi who sang the national anthem in te reo Māori caused a stir at Twickenham in London 23 years ago.
Photo: Getty Images

Since then, recent initiatives like that of Mohi Waiata Hymnsits accompanying television series and week-long celebration, as well as te reo Māori music charts, iwi radio champions, and the formation and ongoing work of the Māori Music Industry Coalition have seen the pūoro Māori be on the up and up.

The work of artists like Maisey Rika, Ria Hall, Stan Walker and Tama Waipara and many more over the past 10 years also cannot be ignored.

Watch Maisey Rika perform Tangaroa Whakamautai

It is through these kinds of efforts that we are now seeing the next wave of Maori artists arrive. Artists like COTERIE, Louis Baker, TEEKS, Troy Kingi, TE KAAHU, Maimoa, Mikey Dam, Rei, Hamo Dell, Ka Hao, Mōhau, Niko Walters, Paige and Rob Ruha are all charting their own paths to success.

In 2019, just over 4,500 Maori waiata were broadcast and aired on mainstream networks. By 2021, that number had grown to over 25,000. 2021 was also the year that saw Rob Ruha and Ka Hao’s te reo Māori track ’35’ become a breakthrough hit, generating 12 million views on TikTok and worldwide attention and fans, while TEEKS was presented by vogue as “New Zealand’s Soul Singer You Need To Know” and would sell gold and top the charts in South Africa with his single “First Time”.

Teeks and kapa haka group Ngā Tūmanako perform “Te Ahi Kai Pō” by Ria Hall, Tiki Taane and Te Ori Paki |  Silver Scroll 2018

TEEKS and kapa haka Ngā Tūmanako perform at the Silver Scroll Awards in 2018.
Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham Farrelly

The last five years have seen an explosion in the success of non-English speaking music internationally with artists like Bad Bunny, J Balvin and Rosalía, and monumental cultural phenomena like K-Pop. Language is now less of a barrier to achieving success, and music’s ability to create meaningful cultural exchanges has never been easier or more important.

In 2021, Lorde released her Te Ao Marama EP, a reinterpretation of five tracks from his album Solar energy in te reo Māori, which, while provoking long discussions, also increased worldwide interest in waiata reo Māori and Māoritanga as a whole.

People like Taika Waititi and Temuera Morrison have taken Māoritanga to new places (and galaxies) in recent years through their work and relationships with global brands. wonder and star wars.

It was relationships like these that led Disney to invest in creating translated te reo Māori versions of their musicals. Moana and The Lion King.

We have already seen the global success of Maori music. And who could forget the distinctive guitar strumming of OMC’s worldwide hit “How Bizarre” or when Stan Walker won australian idol and performed to massive crowds at the Sydney Opera House. But the highlights of New Zealand music on the world stage have largely been with music that reflects already existing global styles and sounds.

If history and our own tastes tell us anything, it is that the waiata of this country, with its own unique histories and cultural values, is something we are strongly connected to and should defend in the world. With a host of talent, a ready and enthusiastic international audience, and an always-connected online society, the time has come for us to turn an annual national celebration of our music into a year on the world stage.

* Marty Jones is a music critic and has worked in the music industry in various roles for many years