December/January 2023

by Huia Hamon

On Foreign Soil: Huia Hamon – WOMEX 2022, Lisboa

by Huia Hamon

On Foreign Soil: Huia Hamon – WOMEX 2022, Lisboa

It’s not every day that I get that chance to travel to the opposite side of the Papatūānuku (earth) to discover a whole world of music, walk the paths of my ancestors, share Te Ao Māori and acquire a rainbow Euro wardrobe, in just seven days! Here are my thoughts and ramblings of our trip to Lisboa, Portugal and WOMEX 2022. – Huia Hamon

In October, with my travel bestie, Rei, we had the opportunity to go to WOMEX, Worldwide Music Expo, thanks to our label Kog chief, Chris Chetland, NZ Music Commission and Matariki Cultural Foundation. Aotearoa has been represented at WOMEX since 1996. Our 2022 Aotearoa roopū was Hāni Totorewa, Te Whenua Harawira, Yee Yang ‘Square’ Lee, Hinurewa te Hau, Alan Holt (NZMC) and Myele Manzanza, coming in from London town.

This year it was in Portugal, in the beautiful, vibrant historical city of Lisboa (or Lisbon). If you’re anything like me, you map the city out and organise your whole trip months before you leave. Also, as a māmā of two, I need to get home safely! After many nights of learning Portuguese from podcasts, then finally booking an Airbnb in the ‘Remuera of Lisbon’ I felt as prepared as I could be for the long 32-hour flight and culture shift.

Travelling on a plane for so many hours is a bit daunting. What I appreciated about the Emirates onboard staff, is their ability to speak eight languages between them and their attention to manaakitanga. I fluked having three seats to myself, lush! I also chose vegan dinners of whole foods which were yummy Arabian dishes, chickpea curry and sweet rice pistachio pudding.

My long-haul flying tips: Try not to think about time and listen to classical music as much as possible. If you ask for vegan/vegetarian food you are served first, which feels like special treatment to make the economy feel more lux. Do make it a priority to reset your night/day cycle. Use melatonin to pop you to sleep for at least six hours, synching in with the sleeping times at your destination. It saves you days of recovering from those long hauls and you arrive fresh.

Our arrival to Lisboa was seamless, with lots of Ubers and no weird loiterers trying to take our bags like in many countries. We had a day to kill before WOMEX so we headed to our porno-staged apartment, then to the Canadian ‘cousins’ music showcase, which was a surreal and exciting group of powerful wāhine and tāne.

WOMEX is a four-day music trade show, self-described as ‘worldwide’ music. (The term ‘world music’ seemed to make people there cringe.) From my experience, the type of music that seems to be showcased and explored there is perhaps best described as; the sharing of native languages and culture pre-westernisation through the form of music.

Even though it is described as worldwide music, attendees are looking for music that celebrates unique culture and language. As one Spanish couple said to me, “Show us something we’ve never seen!” Sharing our Māori future music was a little nerve-wracking at first, but also made us proud as we realised we are extremely unique in the world.

The approach to WOMEX as a delegate seems to be a three-year plan: 1. Scope and familiarise, maybe try and make a few contacts. 2. Now you are familiar, meet up with those folks again and make new connections and book some gigs, maybe. 3. Make real connections and pathways, book some proper tours for your artists and firm collaboration plans.

Held in the stunning Altice Arena, the fair was randomly split into two main areas, with a radio station and conference rooms on another level. The booths are not arranged by continent and seemed scrambled in their ordering.

Concurrent music industry tiers seemed to be running through the event. Some are definitely ‘selling artists’, and we had an experience where as musicians, we felt like a commodity and dehumanised. (A lesson in itself!)

On the other hand, there are many opportunities for cultural exchange between music festivals that are very excited about indigenous music performers and are wanting to connect with our Māori artists. You just have to divert yourself from the cringe (which is always around) to focus on the positives! It was clear that the festival promoters we spoke to want to experience our indigenous Māori and Pacific culture through our music.

One aspect that WOMEX seems to be more aware of, is the divergent collective stream and presence of the indigenous groups connecting at these events. Within various hui and engaged kōrero, both in the trade areas and in closed discussions, we could share our lived experiences and commonality, the kotahitanga. There were tears and mamae (hurt) as we all collectively carry it, for and from our ancestors through the loss of our native languages.

Many deep connections were formed, it is fascinating how fast it happened. We heard the war experiences of our brother Paulo Ameida from East Timor, and the room openly shared our experiences of identifying as indigenous. It was powerful and a lot of ‘kai for whakaaro’ came from that hui, ngā mihi to Hinurewa for hosting this.

All day and every night there were brilliant diverse music showcases. Many of them overlapped and were held in grand theatres and clubs not far from our whare. So the choice often was – do we go to a future afro-Cuban showcase, or to the original Redlands Australians, to hear some ancestral songs? We were spoiled for choice and this also was the case when it came to exploring Lisboa!

When I travel, I like to go where the locals are. To feel like I live there, not to feel like a tourist. Feeling the vibes, finding the people, adjusting fast and becoming localised. We made some of these true connections with musicians, like Meta (Mariana) who invited us to see Criatura, a Portuguese collective that has the best live act I’ve seen to date. The way the audience engaged with Criaturas’ music, when they cheered and spilled out onto the street to celebrate after the show, was life-enhancing.

WOMEX, as a music trade fair is something that every musician should experience. The event is a bombardment of language, pressure, expansion and fast learning. My favourite stall was the Dutch ska band Bazzookas, they had a peep show with headphones which is immersive and had the best strategy for maximising your time.

You should try to learn at least one other language when you go to any music expo. It would be hard to navigate this as a monoglot, so kia kaha te reo Māori! Being bilingual is the key.

From this opportunity to ‘kanohi ki te kanohi’ (face to face), I have formed some deep friendships in Australia, Canada, Hungary, Finland, Norway, the Caribbean, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Holland. It has also given me a much wider view of how our music can travel and what music rivers it can flow on.

So why did I want to go to WOMEX? It’s simple really, I want to create a collective database that can be easily accessed. I have so many new collaborations happening now, so here’s to empowering our future artists to do the same. We must keep our Aotearoa whānau connected, each year we send our fellow islanders to these trade fairs. We should be building an open-source database for everyone to access, with international resources and pathways for future music creators. Also, land back.

Finally, ngā mihi ki taku hoa, ko Rei, aka. kotahi pai hoa haerenga, for being a fun travel bestie too. 2023 WOMEX is in Galicia, Spain next year, so who’s coming.