by Nur Lajunen-Tal

Aja: Making Time For Aroha

by Nur Lajunen-Tal

Aja: Making Time For Aroha

Aja Wairere Ropata has had a long and rewarding live career, both as part of the group Aio and, since they disbanded, as solo artist Aja. Recent years have seen the Te Whanganui-a-Tara artist make her first foray into recording, releasing several singles since 2019. Her luxurious recent single, True Love, is a silky, sensual RnB ballad which celebrates love in all its many forms, made all the more compelling by Aja’s rich, soulful voice. An article by Nur Lajunen-Tal. Made with support from NZ On Air Music.

“I suppose I’ve professionally been singing for over 20 years,” Aja reflects. “I grew up in a musical family who all either play an instrument or sing. My background was growing up in a house of music, mainly sort of soul, RnB, Motown sort of music. Gospel music was introduced in my early age around primary. I used to attend church with my family, so we had a bit of a religious background there for a time when I was a child, and so Christian music is also another part of it. I have spent the last 10-11 years in teaching full time Māori immersion primary between here and the South Island.”

Her elegantly produced new single was co-written with Aja’s cousin and regular collaborator, Te Kawa Hērangi.

“We’ve been playing music together for a long time,” she says. “We were in a band previous to my solo career called Aio, and at the time we were actually all performing for Mara TK, who was on his Bad Meditation Tour. It was my cousin who was on the guitar. He’d come up with the chords and then I would just hum a melody. That’s very much the start of it, and then we got into the first verse. To be honest, the lyrics for the first verse were just repeated for about a year. I would sing that first verse twice!”

Eventually Aja had the opportunity to record the song at Massey University, but it did mean that she really had to come up with a second verse.

“I was kindly invited by the time by Delaney Davidson, who’s a good friend of mine, who was on a writing residency. He was the key to the studio. He invited me to come in with my 10-piece band at the time to track that song live. I obviously had a deadline for recording and I ended up writing the second verse real quick. It just all sort of made sense in the end. Just talking about the idea of the roles that we could potentially take with each other, and weaving our lives together through love.”

Aja’s relationship with her partner, actor Tola Newbery, inspired the song, but she hopes people find broader meaning in it.

“It’s a song, I suppose, about celebrating love. You know, the idea of love and what that looks like between you and a loved one, or a partner, or a child. It’s a celebration of love through meaningful connections with someone, we sort of acknowledge and see or expose our true selves, and I think that’s really the key message behind what this waiata is for me.”

Vivid, poetic imagery is used to describe the beginnings of a relationship. ‘Like tides away, we pull a wave of love this way,’ she sings in the first verse.

“I suppose that’s just the idea of potential, you know?” Aja explains of the lyrics. “Potential something. Igniting something special between us. I think to me, and especially in that time, I had been sort of solo, like a single musician woman teaching for quite some time. I suppose I had definitely started to think about settling down, not knowing that Tola, my partner, was gonna be my forever best friend, but I think that I definitely manifested it. For me it was absolutely a letting go of, not intentionally the past of me, but more about the idea of preparation for a new wave of love that would eventually be introduced in my life, and obviously me into his.”

The song comes with a suitably elegant, live-setting music video, perfectly fitting the song’s vibe. Directed by Jessica Sanderson and filmed at Wellington’s Naumi Hotel, Aja had the honesty to feature her partner in the video, watching as she performs the song.

“It’s really funny because we went through three treatments with Jessica around the idea and concept of the video itself. The first one was have a beautiful big wedding with a big audience on a marae, probably one of my marae in Porirua. Then we realised we had a bit of a deadline, because we’d already pushed out waiting to do the video, so then she had another concept, the second one being just at the Naumi Hotel, and having a few people in the bar, couples and me sort of featuring in and out of that in different frames. And then the third one came about because she’s really good friends with my partner, she knows that he also has a background in acting and that’s how they met. It was sort of a no-brainer really to bring him in, and I was very lucky to have him agree!”

Adding to the sense love and romance she describes the video as a re-enactment of her and Tola’s first meeting.

“I met him at a gig. It was a nighttime gig, and we were sort of dancing around each other in the bar. It definitely wasn’t as flash is the only thing!” she laughs. “Because that was definitely quite a bougie video. She just made us look really good, but other than that, it was pretty much the first time I had engaged with him. I did meet him prior to that on my marae with a family member who he was shooting a movie with at the time. That was a very brief meeting, but the second time, I don’t know. There’s something about the second time when you see someone as well, you know? You’re sort of like, ‘Ah! That’s right. I met you before!'”

Aja has a lot of exciting things coming in the year ahead, including her debut album, for which she has funding from NZ On Air. She says it’s been a long time coming.

“For me it feels like a lifetime, because I’ve been singing for a long long time, and I feel like ever since I was young, ever since I can remember, the goal was always to put a product out of my own, you know? I predominantly just performed live with my previous band. I really enjoy performing in live settings on stage, where it’s live chemistry with my band members, and that’s mainly been my role, probably over most of my music career, obviously with original music, but now it’s a bit more. The first half of my career was just to sort of steer away from business and just perform, like just do the main craft as an artist, sing and write, perform it and tour it with my band. So I’ve been doing that, but now it’s time… and it’s quite long overdue!”

Alongside her music career, Aja is the mother of three young children, providing further testament to True Love‘s message.

“I’d love to close with the line of encouraging those who love, whether it’s just friends or whanau, or a loved one, or a partner, a husband or wife, or you know, just everyone, just to encourage people to take time out for aroha. I truly believe in love. I know this sounds all a bit like ‘ugh!,’ but I think often, we all live very busy lives, and there’s a lot going on in this world. I think that sometimes, we just need to remind ourselves to slow down, to have time for each other, whatever that looks like. Whatever form that wants to present itself.

“I love to encourage people to take this song, and know that that’s part of its message. And persevere with love, because it’s not easy. There’s highs and lows, and there’s bumps along the way, and challenges, but sometimes through pain, it also means love, and love has multi facets. It’s not just all the pretty, happy stuff. It’s actually sometimes pain, and challenge, and the hard stuff, I suppose. So for me it would just be about don’t forget to book in the date night!” she laughs. “Especially for parents, because that’s a busy life and that’s my other hat too as an artist, advocating for māmā. Even if it’s just self-love, taking care of yourself and making time for that. For aroha.”