NewTracks New Artist: Manuka

NewTracks New Artist: Manuka

Singing her latest single entirely in Te Reo Māori is a highlight in itself for Kāwhia artist Manuka, and any lack of understanding of the lyrics to E Te Tau is no impediment to listeners’ enjoyment of it as a languid, loving pop song. (Besides, there’s an easy fix – read on.) Recognising the uncluttered natural beauty of the single, NZ On Air Music included it on their NewTracks compilation this October.

What’s your full name, where are you from and what instruments do you play?

Te Huamanuka Luiten-Apirana, from Kāwhia Moana. I mostly sing and play the guitar, but I have a good ear, so I can usually figure out other instruments if I’m just jamming.

Was any high school or other music training especially important?

I took violin lessons as a child and was involved in choir and bands as a teenager, so that definitely helped with my confidence to perform and tune my ear. Taylor Swift was my idol and I taught myself to play guitar so I could sing her songs all day!

Any other projects that we might we know you from?

I have some other singles on Spotify but I’m relatively new to the music world!

What’s the background story of how Manuka as a project came to be? 

I have always loved singing and songwriting, but after school I decided to pursue acting instead. Now that I’m a bit older I’m branching out to music and it’s really lovely to have a creative outlet that doesn’t have the pressure of earning me a living like my other work in the arts industry does. I make my music for myself. If others happen to love it, that’s really awesome. But at the end of the day, I’m just happy when I can listen to a track over and over and love every part of it.

How has your writing evolved from your beginnings in songwriting to now?

Oh gosh, I do not want to ever share how terrible my first lyrics were. But I guess that’s what happens when you pair a Taylor Swift lover-in the feels-not many friends teenager with a pen and a paper. I like to keep my lyrics simple and be vulnerable. It’s even more special now that I’ve finished my immersion Te Reo course because I can write in Māori. I’m definitely still no expert, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do my whole life, and now I finally can.

What made you choose Manuka as your artist name?

Manuka is the shortened version of Te Huamanuka, so I’ve just dropped the last name.

Aside from this release, what’s been the big highlight to date?

This is my highlight! To be able to release a single in Te Reo and to hear how people are enjoying it and wanting to play it and share it is really special. Aotearoa has come a long way in the past few years and it’s a good time to be a bilingual artist.

What makes E Te Tau stand out for you as a single?

I love that pop music in Te Reo is becoming a more common thing, and I think that’s what is cool about E Te Tau – I’m really proud of the lyrics. It’s groovy but chill and has nice harmonies. It’s great for background music but also for jamming along full blast in the car. It also has its sister song, My Baby & Me, for anyone who wants to listen to the translated version.

What is the story behind E Te Tau?

E Te Tau is a love song I wrote for my partner Jordan. He’s really special and I’ve known it from the beginning. I actually wrote the song for him in English for his birthday a few years ago and have finally translated it. He doesn’t speak te reo yet so it’s a beautiful story to unpack slowly as he learns.

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?

Gosh, so many! To any non-reo speakers, the English translation really doesn’t do it justice. It’s deep and beautiful and full of love and feeling. The chorus ‘E rere ana ki Rangi Tūhāhā ia rā ki tōu taha’, says ‘I fly to the highest heavens every day with you’. But I also have another favourite in verse two, ‘te kaiurungi o tōku manawa’, which means the navigator of my heart.

Who did you write/record/produce the single with and where?

I recorded vocals in the Parachute Studios with my producer Edy On The Beat. Edy is absolutely incredible at what he does, and over a few years we’ve gotten really good at tuning to each other. I send him a voice memo with just my lyrics and guitar and he comes up with an awesome track. With E Te Tau it’s the quickest we’ve ever spent in the studio!

What would you like listeners to take away from this song?

Just to enjoy listening to it – that’s what I do! And to make sure you tell those you love that you appreciate it and don’t take it for granted.

How do you generally work out what song would make a good single?

Honestly, I just choose a whatever song is my favourite to play that I’ve written recently and then record it. I don’t think much into it at all, I don’t have any kind of strategy, I just follow my heart.

Who else is in your team?

I work with Edy a lot, but in terms of my team – it’s just me. And I like it that way, it means I’m calling all the shots and can see my vision through to the end product.

Are there any other musical endeavours you’re working on that we should keep an eye out for? 

I’d love to release more Māori music, but currently my music doesn’t make much money, so each song is an investment I save hard for. Stream it e te whānau, so I can put out some new tracks!

Can you please name three other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside your song.

  • Paige: Goodbye
  • Muroki: Rehurehu
  • Mohi: Tahuri Mai

Have any previous NZOA applications not gained funding or been included on NewTracks? 

NewTracks is very accessible and easy to follow – I encourage everyone to give it a go! Just keep giving it a shot. Especially as a new, independent artist, there’s so much choice and competition out there, but it’s important to not be discouraged and keep putting your name out there!

Any last words?

Ngā mihi.