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December/January 2021

by Junelle Kunin

Maimoa: Collective Influence

by Junelle Kunin

Maimoa: Collective Influence

Maimoa Music are arguably the most important music collective in Aotearoa – a collection of young Māori artists with a kaupapa to benefit and develop te reo Māori, consciously creating positive footprints for the next generation to continue their legacy of Waiata Māori. The group consists of Puawai Taiapa, Hoeata Maxwell-Blake, Mereana Teka, Awatea Wihongi, Nathaniel Howe, Raniera Blake, Metotagivake Shmidt-Peke, Kia Kaaterama Kiri-Pou and Pere Wihongi. Just recently the band won Te Kaipuoro Māori Toa (Best Māori Artist) at the newly re-named Aotearoa Music Awards. Junelle Kunin speaks with Nathaniel Howe.

In an interview on the night of receiving the award for Te Kaipuoro Māori Toa (Best Māori Artist) at November’s inaugural Aotearoa Music Awards, Pere Wihongi reiterated Maimoa’s kaupapa. “We are here to represent te reo Māori and to inject te reo Māori into the NZ music industry.”

Initially brought together in 2015 by Cinco Cine Film Productions as individual artists to put a waiata together as part of Te Wiki O Te Reo Māori, the resulting debut single Maimoatia went to number 1 on the NZ charts.

Maimoa’s proactive goal setting and hard work soon saw them step into the realm of screen with reality TV show Waiata Nation. Nathaniel says they created the concept to have a new platform to launch Māori music artists from.

“It’s everything you need to be an artist, to launch a single, to do a video, to do the publicity around it …and to have the documentation to profile the stories of who these artists are, we did that with the first season with our Maimoa artists.”

Waiata Nation saw the Maimoa whānau launch 11 singles and 11 music videos as part of the first season. Five of those songs charted in some shape or form. The 11 tracks also formed their debut album ‘Rongomaiwhiti’ which they put out at the end of the series.

A series of recent award nominations, including the 2020 APRA Maioha Award which recognises contemporary Māori songwriting for their track Whāia, are a testament to their hard work. They took out the Radio Airplay Te Reo Song of the year for Kawea at the Waiata Māori Music Awards, their string of 2020 nominations culminated in winning the Tui for Te Kaipuoro Māori Toa (Best Māori Artist) at the recent Aotearoa Music Awards.

Nathaniel surmises the industry recognition received is down to their efforts in creating a large body of work.

“It’s not easy to put out 11 music videos, a 12-episode series, and an album, as well as doing all the community events we carried on doing at the same time.”

Perhaps evident in their level of excellence, refreshing confidence, stage presence and epic harmonies, but prior to their Maimoa journey each had achieved success individually. All have a kapa haka background and coming from groups who have excelled at the highest level of Māori performing arts, they also all bring fluency in te reo Māori and consequently the depths of te ao Māori.
“When we look at the international music industry we see different genres. We see different cultures and ethnicities. I think, with the Māori language, it’s not only bringing a language to the industry but you’re bringing in a whole tradition, you’re bringing an action, and you’re bringing in history behind every single Māori word that is being sung,” Pere Wihongi relayed after their Te Kaipuoro Māori Toa win. Nathaniel calls it the ‘reo revolution’.

Most of the Maimoa whānau have a television background, with many having started as presenters on Pukana before being picked up by the show’s producers to participate in the earlier mentioned waiata for Te Wiki O Te Reo Māori. Combine these credentials with their innovation and willingness to roll the dice and you have the powerful collective of Maimoa.

They’ve consciously branded themselves positively, evident in the upbeat anthems, brightly coloured videos and vibrant energy. Their wairua and waiata are positively infectious – remarkable forces to inspire others, especially our tamariki now and in the future.

The strategy on branding however runs much deeper than what appears. They are acutely aware of navigating the challenges of being a waiata Māori pop group where mainstream media haven’t always depicted Māori in the best light.

“We come from a generation of young people who have been taught to oppose that. And not only oppose that, but be the opposite of that.

“It’s been a huge challenge to try and maintain a positive happy go lucky brand and to maintain that synergy among us,” Nathaniel continues. “At the end of the day, the next generation are watching and we want to leave positive footprints for them to follow.”

He describes their journey as one of defying odds and that it’s through grit, determination and commitment to their kaupapa they persevere, to create a legacy and leave something behind to be proud of for the generations to come.

“I’m really proud of what we’ve done, we’re an amazing case study of how a large group of young people can work together to achieve a goal. The group dynamic is ever-changing, and that’s part of the magic. One of the things I’m most proud about is taking te reo Māori music to all the pockets across Aotearoa. There’s so many people to thank, we can never take the credit for Maimoa because there’s too many people who have contributed. Some of our major influences are the Maori language music artists in particular who’ve come before us. The likes of Maisey Rika, Rob Ruha, Ria Hall, Stan Walker and Troy Kingi. And Cilla Ruha too. I don’t want to miss anyone because there’s been so many. We recognise the responsibility we carry having received guidance and inspiration from our influences.”

Maimoa are working on a new album intended for release in the new year, and say it may also include some surprise features…

“Māori music deserves a space on all stages and on all radio waves. If it’s our job to get Māori language music in the places that they should be and they deserve to be, then we have a big job to do. We carry that mandate seriously.”