Mother, musician, producer, promoter, vocal tutor and composer – Huia Hamon evidently likes to keep herself plenty busy, actively involving herself in numerous aspects of the local music scene. Drawing from an interview in her west Auckland home that ended up stretching over several hours, Briar Lawry distilled this picture of her broad creative life.
Kōrero with Huia Hamon is a sprawling tapestry of music, family and art. Each strand of her life is woven into another, with a story behind it that connects it to something else. Coming together to discuss ‘ĀTA’, an EP of easy-going reggae, that follows up ‘Huia’s Waiata’, her debut album, we swapped stories of musical histories, enjoying plentiful coffee and a constant view of the Waitakere Ranges.
Huia is a woman of many musical talents. She and husband Chris run Kog Studio – previously of Kingsland, these days nestled in beside their Titirangi home, where they live with son Zen and three cats of varying temperament. Huia is a vocal producer, vocal tutor, producer and composer, marketer and promoter, but for this article, the focus is on Huia the musician – specifically the musician who performs in te reo Māori.
Huia leads the Tātou Tātou E collective, performing on all five of their albums thus far, and playing an integral role in securing Te Māngai Pāho funding.
Her grandfather was artist and poet Rei Hamon, whose work was not limited to medium – from kauri gum sculpture to pointillism-style paintings gifted to the Queen from the NZ Government. Having one such a significant figure in one’s whakapapa seems like artistic influence enough, but there’s more. Her mother’ s a poet, and while neither of her parents are musicians, guitar and song are commonplace in their home.
“Mum got me doing little songs for visitors when I was about two and a half. And later, I was one of those weird kids always doing the songs in assembly,” she laughs. “I never thought I was ‘that’ kid until I grew up. And I was always writing poetry and songs, ever since I could write.”
It was during a stint in Mt Maunganui that her dedication to music really took hold. Through some twists and turns of fate (and one chef’s course), Huia found herself enrolled in Waiariki Bay of Plenty Polytechnic’s Te Kamakama Diploma – which gave her the grounding in musical theory, songwriting and various digital tools like Logic and ProTools that have all helped lead to where she is today.
Huia met Chris Chetland in 2005, when his outfit Baitercell opened for Shapeshifter in Hamilton, while she was studying publicity and communications at the University of Waikato. Another encounter at an Auckland party was really all it took. “That was us.”
She started working at Chris’s company KOG when it was in Kingsland, and by now they make a formidable pair in the musical production world. While their home and studio are tucked away off the beaten track, at least in Auckland terms, their relative isolation isn’t an issue.
“Everyday there are people out here, it’s a really social house.”
But even when there’s recording, mixing and mastering going on in the studio, the house itself is an oasis of nature and art – from pieces by Huia’s koro Rei, to drawings by four-year-old Zen.
It was here that Huia created ‘ĀTA’– literally translated as ‘with deliberation’ or ‘care’.
“I wrote it really fast – I had an application due, and Te Māngai Pāho grants require the songs to be finished – not mixed and mastered, but still ready.”
The album shifts through a variety of genres, without ever feeling stilted. The ribbon of te reo lyrics and her vocals tie things together, as it drifts through reggae, dub and drum’n’bass.
“I wrote them in English, over the beats from Te Omeka.”
Her te reo guidance on this record came in the form of Lois McIver, aka Whāia.
“Lois has a beautiful te reo speaking voice, and her te reo is really poetic. For the translations, she’d tell me, ‘This is what it literally means, and this is what it means emotionally.’”
Having faced a little bit of struggle with TMP in thte past over te reo poetic sensibilities vs. rigid translations, Huia says that this time, it was much more straightforward and McIver’s involvement helped.
“Lois does stuff for TV, it was really easy for them to trust her.”
Emotionally, ‘ĀTA’ had an eerily similar genesis to her 2012 album ‘Huia’s Waiata’ – family tragedies juxtaposed against joy.
“It’s life and death, loss and life together. I’ve been in very similar places of healing and loss for both records. It can be hard to write when everything’s good – sometimes you need some injustice or something to draw on!”
She has another album up her sleeve, waiting for the right time to bring it out. This time, though, it’s an English record.
“I’d love to do some kids stuff, maybe go for triple languages – te reo, English and Spanish. When I’m singing in a bilingual setting, I always go for literal melody and word translation – to make sure everyone gets that universal feel.”