October/November 2014

by Trevor Reekie

Moments Like These: Moana Maniapoto

by Trevor Reekie

Moments Like These: Moana Maniapoto

There would be few NZ bands that have taken their music and our indigenous culture to the world as extensively as Moana & The Tribe, so it’s little wonder that in 2004 Moana Maniapoto was made Member of the NZ Order of Merit. Moana has achieved so much in her career and her passion and commitment to the creative and cultural values and responsibilities she holds close to her heart are boundless. Suffice to say, she is a woman of immaculate integrity and love for Aotearoa and te reo. Moana & The Tribe have just released their fifth studio album, ‘Rima’, produced by band member Paddy Free. The album captures their unique brand of female harmonies and haka as well as exploring our relationship with the environment, especially the ocean. Moana is a true ambassador who has contributed much towards the global perception and understanding of this country.

Can you remember when, where and who took this photo?

It’s Cologne Cathedral [west Germany], circa 2003. Stuart Page took it using his timer. This was my band in the early days, we were releasing a DVD into Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. Cologne is home to Pirate Records.

Looking back to your childhood, were there indicators that point to your adult passion for music and song?

Our father Nepia, who died in July at 84, picked up his guitar at least 10 times a day for most of his life. He had his own band in Invercargill when he was a wharfie. We grew up hearing our father and uncles sing doo-wop songs to guests at our marae. Great harmonies. Dad was involved in a serious car accident that wrecked his vocal cords. It was hard on him, one haka would wipe him out. But he still loved singing.

At St Joseph’s Māori Girls College, I learnt about harmonies, vocal dynamics and to play the guitar. In those days, parties were singalongs in garages and that’s how we used to roll when I was university student too. My parents were probably disappointed with my career choice early on as I studied to be a lawyer.

I got my degree and passed my bar exams. To pay my way through university, I sang. The more I learnt about how law had been a tool of colonisation in NZ, the less I wanted to practice. I did a fair amount of television and radio presenting, political commentating and was even an actor on Shortland St for nine months. I got bored with having my own radio show or being in front of the camera. My passion has always been singing live onstage. Everything else has been moonlighting.

How did your musical career develop to the point of playing, recording and travelling with the Moahunters?

My mate Aroaro and I entered talent quests on the Auckland club circuit so I could pay my way through law school. We won a bit of money but loads more alcohol. Through different TV shows we ended up on I met Dalvanius. He wrote my first single Kua Makona and was a real mentor for me. I won Most Promising Female Artist at the Music Awards and was so shy, all I could manage was “kia ora”. After that, I sang at Club 21 fronting the band Whiteline, five nights a week for two years. It was a great training ground. I joined the bi-lingual Wellington reggae band Aotearoa for two years and loved it.

In 1989, I pulled a band together for The Flying Youth Tour. It sounded like a circus but was pretty innovative considering all the venues were marae and there were 71 musicians on the road. So I drew on influences from my club and Aotearoa experience. Our band gained a following. Murray Cammick signed up soul acts from South Auckland through his Southside label. He was so choice and supportive. I think he came up with the Moahunters name. Or, was it George Hubbard? We had a #2 hit with a cover of Black Pearl. It took us all by surprise.

All of my band either lived or worked in South Auckland. We started off playing a mixture of originals and covers, rehearsing at home in Otahuhu or at OMAC in Otara. I had John (J.D) Diamond on guitar and sometimes Cadzow Cossar, Richie Campbell (drums), BrentTurner (keys) and Pete Hoera (bass) – all ex Ardijah. Mina Ripia, who was a dancer with Billy T.K & Wharemana, joined Teremoana Rapley (ex-Upper Hutt Posse) as backing vocalists.


Murray suggested I work on an album with Angus McNaughton (ex-Headless Chickens), write tracks for radio and club play. It was almost finished and he said, “Why don’t you write something that no one will ever play on radio, just do something really experimental.”

Angus and I decided to replace drums with poi hits, body slaps and haka stamps so we went to Kowhai Intermediate and sampled the kids doing kapa haka.

Ruia Aperahama gave me a couple of verses of a waiata he’d written and I asked him to perform a hand slap game with a percussive chant. He looked at me like I’d lost it. We used samples of taonga puoro from Hirini Melbourne and Richard Nunns. In total, we had 44 different samples. It was so much fun. Thats how Tahi (Roots Mix) came about. And that’s when I knew the space I wanted to write within. Since then, I’ve always loved that fusion.

It was reinforced when I was in the USA as a guest of the Nation of Islam, staying in Harlem. I was invited to sing one day in the Detroit Baptist church where I was part of a delegation with Minister Louis Farrakhan and Rev Al Sharpton and in that moment I truly realised that there was no point in trying to sound like the soul singer I’d been for most of my life. I ended up writing and recording Back Where We Belong for ‘Tahi’ with the son of Elijah Muhummad (founder of Nation of Islam). Rasul and I sang it at our Muriwai Waitangi Day Festival in 2012 when he and his mother came to stay with us.

My band and I went up to the Vancouver Folk Festival and toured British Columbia. We played the New Orleans Jazz Festival and around the city as support to the Neville Brothers. We performed at the first Pacific Festival in the Cook Islands and in and around the Sydney Olympics.

My brother-in-law Warren Morgan was our only haka man at the start. I needed more for the song Treaty, so he brought in Scotty Morrison, who still co-writes and performs with me, and four others from Tūhourangi-Ngāti Wahiao, Whakarewarewa.

I pulled in Damn Native on different songs like Treaty and Titokowaru. It was natural everyone came on tour with us but the numbers got out of control. When we did Womadelaide, we had the brass section of Southside of Bombay, extra BVs – 22 people onstage. Unmanageable offstage, people tripping over mic cables onstage – Peter Garrett (Midnight Oil) yelling at the band to shut up and go to bed because they were partying by the pool. I think that everyone was bouncing off each others’ energy with the rappers excited by the energy of live haka onstage, vice versa – and the band driving it all along. But it was messy offstage. I remember Willie (my ex-husband) screaming at everyone in the carpark to get it together.

Willie was managing us in collaboration with our friend Wyn Osborne. In 1992, Willie, Neil Cruickshank, George Hubbard and Tim Moon had started Tangata Records. My band moved from Southside to Tangata, to help raise the profile of the label. Tough one cos we did love Murray. But Tangata was pulling together some wonderful Māori artists, a mixture of genres too.

It was quite an exciting time for me because I was moving from merely being a singer into finding my way as a songwriter. South Auckland was full of very talented musicians, but very few transitioned to writing their own material. Ardijah was the most successful.

But Willie, Neil and I were also using my rising profile to rark up the music industry on behalf of Māori. It was very white bread in those days and none of the industry leaders had a clue what to do with Māori music, so they consequently did nothing. Commercial radio ignored Māori music so Tangata started up a radio show called Tribal Beats which I fronted, to feed into iwi radio. Willie and I were always fighting with RIANZ and the Music Awards about how they kept marginalising Māori music.


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What prompted changing the name of your band from the Moahunters to The Tribe?

I got divorced in 1998, so folded the band after a big tour of British Columbia. My girlfriend Ngaire Wilson took me, and a couple of others from my band, up to Florence. We played some acoustic gigs. Sol de Sully visited me in January 2002. He had been a fan for a long time. He asked me if I wanted a shot at trying to crack Europe. “Could I get a band together, a new album out and airfares to get to Germany in June?” I said yes before I had any idea how to do all three.

We decided the band name was simply going to be Moana, easy for international audiences to remember. It was sweet-as for Italians because I shared my name with the most famous porn star in Italy!My line up included two guitarists – Cadzow Cossar and Teina Benioni, Richard Nunns (taonga puoro), Amiria Reriti and Trina (vocals), Hone Manukau (rap) and Scotty Morrison and Paora Sharples (haka). It was still very funky but a different feel to the big band sound of the Moahunters.

Halfway through the tour, Pirate Records was threatened with a lawsuit for releasing our albums under the name Moana. A German media company held the trademark for the name. We had to think of a new name on the fly, it was a nightmare. Burning down the autobahn in-between gigs, pretty knackered, Tribe was the best out of a really stink bunch of names we came up with under pressure.

There would only be a few artists who have toured as extensively as you – what are some of the more unusual?

Some of the countries we have really enjoyed are Borneo, Turkey, Russia, Poland, Scotland, Kanaky, China and Hungary. We have done heaps of concerts in Italy, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, and been twice into Korea, Taiwan, Norway and Canada – and the Chatham Islands rates a special mention.

You obviously thrive on the live performance, but touring isn’t always a glamorous experience is it?

The worst time was this year. Our band was part of a big international collaboration of two bands (mine and Breabach, Scotland) and eight Australian indigenous vocalists and performers. Our father died while we were in Scotland, so Trina, my five year old daughter Manawanui and I returned home for his tangi, leaving our band up there to try and continue on. I taught Casey Donovan (a former Australian Idol winner) to sing the lead on one of my songs. Then our drummer Mickey was hospitalised in Glasgow with a very serious condition and the rest of our band had to leave him there. It was the longest and most emotional week ever.

Another low was crashing our nightliner on the autobahn last year, taking out five cars and causing a traffic standstill from Stuttgart to Munich for three hours. We are all still nervous on bus trips.

Two days into our first big European 36-gig tour, our Italian promoter cancelled 10 gigs in Italy, signing off the email with sorry for the inconvenience. The financial implications were horrific – no fees but all the expenses. Sol told me to get the band out of Switzerland, go to a more inexpensive country until we figured out a solution. I called the NZ Embassy in Rome and explained the situation. In 24 hours, it was all back on. Bless our diplomatic core and the stroppy Italian wahine who suggested to the promoter he was verging on creating a diplomatic incident, so do the honourable thing – what your father would do. He did.

A highlight from that tour was we heard that Major John Waititi was receiving an award on behalf of the 28th Maori Battalion from the town of Faenza. We offered to play a free concert to the town if they got us there. The town council bussed us from Rome and we were shown around the town by former soldiers who wouldn’t let us buy a coffee saying, “We owe your people.” We played on a big stage to a packed town square – and it was hugely emotional for the entire audience, but also ourselves. I get a bit emotional now just thinking about that.

One night, the phone rang. It was NZ ambassador to Russia, Stuart Prior. Would I be open to taking my band up to Moscow that weekend to play in a swish club booked out entirely for the private party of a wealthy businessman? Um, hell yeah!

After being served caviar in a lounge overlooking the Kremlin, we were trading vodka shots with a former KGB General while Boney-M played Rasputin live on the stage. Surreal. And, with all that straight vodka, we freshies from NZ had an incredibly messy time of it afterwards. The businessman has since flown us back and forth to Russia and into the Cotswolds, for another party. He and the ambassador have become very good friends to our band.

In 2011, we were way up north inside the Arctic Circle in Norway at an achingly beautiful place due to play at the Riddu Riddu festival on the Saturday night. That morning, I was woken by texts from NZ asking if the band was okay. I had no idea what they were talking about. Then a film crew that was coming to interview me about our concert said they heard news of a massacre near Oslo. As the news came in throughout the day, everyone was in shock.

We found out the daughter of one of the festival organisers was missing on Utoya island. The festival was cancelled and we went into a building and just sat quietly together. Then the organisers asked all the artists if we wanted to sing a couple of songs each for a spontaneous memorial concert and they would just open up the gates and invite everyone onto the grounds. It was the hardest gig I’ve ever done. We left the following day for Taipei, but it took us days to snap out of it. 69 people were killed.

Last year, we returned to Riddu Riddu. We had a tangi when we met up with the festival organisers. Trina and I met the young girl who had survived. She was shot four times and showed me the scars. She survived by looking at her watch while hiding and telling herself, I’m going to live for one more minute, then repeating that every minute. It’s a powerful lesson to learn from a survivor.

What makes for a great Moana Maniapoto song in both English and te reo? Are they two different creative mind-sets?

My best kind of te reo song uses traditional Māori vocal styles as opposed to western vocal melody styles. To me that moteatea style has so much soul and passion, and its the best for interpreting the poetry of te reo. Vocally, its more like channeling than simply singing. It feels natural to get more experimental with arrangements and song structure, referencing the poetry of the lyrics a lot more. It’s perfect too when working with Paddy Free because he loves the drone, and the drone is what Māori singing is all about.

When I write in English, often I keep trying to polish the English lyric, but with Maori, I don’t usually muck around with it.

Who are some of the most significant artists and composers that you consider have contributed to a musical heritage in te reo?

Dalvanius, Hirini Melbourne, Ngahiwi Apanui, Hinewehi Mohi and Neil Cruickshank (Tangata Records/

Many of your songs carry a message. How do you research historical and ancestral authenticity for the songs you write?

I’m inspired by stories or events around me. So if something piques my interest, I go on a hunt. I’m lucky to have some wonderful people in my life who are very generous with their knowledge – Patu Hohepa, Hec Busby, Scotty Morrison and Professor Wharehuia Milroy with regard to this last album. Scotty and I collaborate on te reo songs, he is my Pou Ārahi reo.

In my research about the ocean, I got obsessed with a story about Te Korokoro o te Parata, a taniwha that was evoked by Ngātoroirangi which almost capsized the Te Arawa waka. These men all came back to with different perspectives on the story. Hec could even point to a geographical location near the Kermadecs, a whirlpool where whales feed on fish thrown up from the currents converging. He suspects the whirlpool is the metaphor for the taniwha. Its like being on a mystery trail following the clues.

The latest version of the Tribe is a formidable line up of incredible musical and cultural pedigree. It must be quite a challenge keeping such an awesome band together?

It is hard to hold a big band together, especially as all the musicians play with other bands. And for a lot of people, it’s hard for them to take a couple of months out of their lives to tour offshore. I came up with the concept of the Tribe – having a fairly fluid bunch of performers with myself, Trina and Cadzow being the anchor. It takes the stress off all of us.

I have six warriors because all of them are top line performers who double as broadcasters, aspiring politicians, teachers and carvers. Kemara Kennedy and Laurence Kershaw are the main ones now and both live in Rotorua.

Mickey Ututaonga is a legendary drummer and a great vocalist. It is such a pleasure to take him offshore with us because not only do we get to show off his talent, we watch him have fun. My sister Trina is also based in Rotorua and she is a lovely singer.

Onstage, Paddy and I work closely together to help bring our recorded songs to life, ensuring that all the musicians bring their talent to the table. In the early days, Cadzow was a one-man band. Now he has Paddy, Mickey and Marika Hodgson (bass) so it’s wonderful. Max Stowers is my other bass player and Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper plays off and on.

We run our band like a government so everyone has a ministerial role – Minister of Finance, Māori Affairs, Trade & Enterprise etc. At the end of the day, I’m the boss. We try to have regular hui where everyone gets their say and we can debrief on anything on or offstage. I usually take my little girl away with us too and the band is lovely with her. She can sleep through a sound check and usually wakes up when there’s silence.

For any band, I think clear communication and mutual respect is absolutely essential – and having fun on and offstage. And I have a great manager, Sol de Sully, who continually challenges me to keep up with the play and be fluid enough to fit whatever is happening on the live music scene.

Working with electronic producer Paddy Free has proved an inspired collaboration. How does the creative process work between you?

Oddly enough, this is the first album I have written specifically for live concerts, so it was a lot more focused approach because we were thinking big stages, big audiences. Mostly, I come up with the song concept and feel I’m after. I usually have most of the lyrics and vocal melody sorted and sometimes, a bit of a groove. I play it on the guitar or just sing it to Paddy. Then he works out the beats, and starts riffing off what I’ve given him – putting in a bass line and some chord progressions. We record some vocals and start building vocal arrangements there and then in the studio. I take it away after the session and work through it a bit more. And Paddy adds all his awesome stuff meantime.

We agree on which other musicians we need to record, I build up all the vocal harmonies and we throw in everything we can think of, we get totally immersed into the song. I find it hard to move off a song onto others when we get into the zone.

Paddy likes a slow burn so the song can start off at over six minutes. I often have a clear idea on the song structure but he prefers to throw everything into the mix and not be defined by an arrangement. Then we step back for a while and work on other stuff.

I can listen to a recording for a few months and suddenly think, Let’s kill that third verse. Paddy and I get quite ruthless towards final arrangement time and we have some lively discussions but we just keep on and on until we are both happy. Paddy is incredibly focused and I had so much respect for and trust in him as a musician, producer and person that it was easy to collaborate.

Your new album ‘Rima’ refers to many of issues close to your heart. What are some of the messages that you are putting across?

My daughter just turned six and so I’m more acutely aware than ever about the world that she will be inheriting. So there are songs that explore our relationship to the ocean, to the land. There are other songs that celebrate strong, stroppy, wonderful women, and another I wrote after my son graduated from university. I was inspired when his mates got up and performed a massive haka for him. Don McGlashan and I were approached by my husband Toby and his co-producer Julian Arahanga to write a song about the Treaty relationship for the Treaty House so that was a real challenge but a very pleasant one.

What is the most potent and universal message you want to put across in your music?

People have more in common than we do different. Our survival as a species depends on our ability to accept that we are simply one part of the eco-system not separate to it or master over it. We are accountable to our ancestors, each other and our children.

Do you find it hard to say difficult things that need to be said, in such a way that your multicultural audience won’t take offence?

I try to be inclusive and hope people, no matter what culture, recognise something of themselves or their own culture in what I am saying. Hopefully, we are a mirror, not a window.

Do you see the current landscape of Aotearoa as more embracing of our cultural identity?

Definitely. It wasn’t very nice being Māori and singing in our language when I first started recording. Now there are so many more opportunities to learn and speak the language, to see Māori reflected in the media, in government, the sciences – everywhere. There is still a lot of institutional racism and a lot of cherry-picking from Pakeha as to which bits of Māori culture are acceptable. Some things haven’t changed.

Do you have any issues about the opportunities for Maori music to gain the same breadth of exposure as non-Maori?

The term Māori music is a double-edged sword because it’s such a broad label that covers multiple genres, just as NZ music isn’t just one thing. So the negative is that my band is sometimes seen in NZ as more of a cultural act than a band with a cultural element to it. Offshore, we get invited to play at rock, reggae, jazz and world music festivals – here in NZ, its mainly arts festivals and the Outstanding Woman.

You’ve played with an incredible roster of local and International artists – who would you consider made the biggest impression on you and why?

Youssou Ndour. He came out into the Town Hall to watch us soundcheck – I mean, who does that? As an artist, he painted another picture of Africa to us onstage with his songs and his korero, saying Africa wasn’t all deserts and jungles and starvation and war. After his concert, he left his fans to tell us how much he enjoyed our show and how we would meet again. Not only talented but he acted with such grace, I will always remember that.

The Neville Brothers met us at the airport in New Orleans with a second line brass band playing us into the terminal. Aaron paid all the tips for the baggage because we were such freshies, we didn’t know about that. Their mothers cooked for us. Over the years it’s always been like catching up with family. They have no airs or pretensions.

I liked how Aaron loves gospel, Cyril is a reggae buff, Charles loves jazz and Art is one of the godfathers of funk. Put ’em all together, and they pumped out a really cool sound. As well, they have played with so many legendary musicians so we got the gossip on a lot of them, like Chaka Khan and how she…

Your worst professional experience?

Once two musicians didn’t turn up for a flight to Moscow. One told me had injured his hand and couldn’t play – only a sister of mine snapped him performing in Raglan that same weekend. He set the cops onto me while I was in Moscow because I still had his passport. The other just didn’t turn up to the airport. He never called me, never emailed. I have never heard from either of them since, which was very hurtful.

It put a lot of stress on Cadzow to rehearse a new bass player (who couldn’t speak a word of English) plus I had to fly in other musicians from England and Germany to fill the gaps for the gigs. It cost me thousands and thousands of dollars and because I trusted everyone, I never had a written contract and couldn’t take them to the Small Claims Tribunal. Since then I always sign a written contract with every musician before each tour, even my own sister.

What’s the most important thing you can pass on to a young musician intent on a career as a professional musician?

Learn about the business side. Keep your feet on the ground. Don’t believe the hype.

The music business is a place where one learns from one’s mistakes – is there one that you learned more from than other mistakes?

Always be very clear at the outset of any recording or concert project so there’s no confusion about expectations, particularly when it comes to money and particularly with good friends. Write it up and have everyone sign.

What are your personal favourite songs that never fail to brighten your day?

Tera te Auahi is a lament from our iwi of Tuhourangi-Ngāti Wahiao but it has such a hypnotic lilt to it that its like being swept up into an ancient vortex. Every time I hear it, I convince myself I need to learn it. Never Too Much (Luther Vandross) – soul, baby! You Oughta Know by (Alanis Morrisette) – nailed it. Welcome (Kingfisha), slippery, cool. Alive (Sa Ding Ding) cos my daughter just loves that. French Letter (Herbs) – summer sounds and university days.

What’s the best book about music that youve read?

Ngā Mōteatea (Apirana Ngata), full of beautiful old waiata and poetry in te reo.

The best advice you ever got was…?

Be nice to people on the way up, you’ll meet the same ones on the way down.

What would you consider is your proudest creative or cultural achievement?

Having incorporated aspects of Māori traditional performance into contemporary dance music. And that after five albums and hundreds of concerts, people still buy our albums and come to our concerts.

How do you define success?

Success to me is defined by the quality of your relationships and living your passion with integrity.

Main photo left to right: Reweti te Mete (haka), Trina Maniapoto (vocals), Daniel Grosse (driver), Michael Trinkl (Pirate Records), Moana Maniapoto, Stuart Page (film/lights), Pete Hoera (bass), Paora Sharples (haka), Rangi Rangituknoa (haka/vocals), Toby Mills (film/road manager), Cadzow Cossar (guitar)


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