NewTracks New Artist: Mohi

NewTracks New Artist: Mohi

Mohi Allen is holding a tidy pair of aces, enough to clean the table in the entertaining video for his very new single E Kii. As the song title suggests the vocals are sung in Te Reo. What’s more of a surprise is the way his waiata so neatly inhabits the smoking jacket of Swing music – being smooth, simple and easy-listening jazz, with a solid beat and strong dance groove, clear lyrics and memorable melody. What’s not to like? NZ On Air added the song to their NewTracks compilation this October. 

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

My full name is Mohi Wati Te Rau Allen. I am of Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa, Ngāi Te Rangi and Ngāti Kahungunu ki Te Wairoa descent, born and raised in West Auckland.
I am a singer-songwriter and play a bit of guitar too.

Was any high school or other music training especially important to you?

I went to a humble Māori school out west, Ngā Kākano o Te Kaihanga kura. I didn’t have any specific music training but in my final years of school, me and a couple of my kura mates started a band called Ngā Puāwaitanga. We were a 5-piece reggae, roots, soul band and ended up releasing an album, which was a pretty cool experience.

Any other previous (or current) projects might we know you from?

A recent project that I was super lucky to be a part of was the Waiata Nation 2 series on Māori TV. This project documents the recording and production of my new single, E Kii, and the music video, and also gives a little insight into my personal background and where I’m from.

What’s the background of how Mohi came to be, as a project? 

The background story for Mohi stems back to the first lockdown in 2020. With some extra time on my hands, I took the opportunity to reconnect with my music. Music has always been a place of healing and expression for me so it was cool to use that time to write and play again. I started composing more original music, making connections with other creatives and, as time went on and with some unreal opportunities Mohi grew and evolved into who I am today.

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

I believe with every life experience, good and bad, my songwriting matures and uncovers deeper parts of myself, and inspires the kinds of waiata that I want to share with the world.

How and when did you come up with the artist name?

As a solo artist, Mohi felt like the perfect name to use as my alias. It’s my first name, easy to say/read, and pays homage to my whānau.

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

The biggest highlight to date would probably be performing back home at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds for the Waitangi Day Celebrations this year.

What makes E Kii stand out for you as a single?

I think E Kii stands out as a single because of its unique reo, jazz and soul fusion! I feel like it’s a new vibe of Māori music that hasn’t been totally explored yet.

What is the story behind E Kii?

E Kii speaks to the growing gap between the privileged upper class and the lower class in Aotearoa-New Zealand. I utilise a mixture of reo slang, metaphor, whakataukī and whakatauākī to form the lyrics that bring this message to life.

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

My favourite part of the single would have to be the outro; the handclaps, foot-stomping, horn lines; brings the energy! The outro lyrics take influence from a prophecy shared by my ancestor, Te Ruki Kawiti, following the battle of Ruapekapeka in 1846. These lyrics serve as a reminder for our people that the time has now come to rise up and take action.

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

I worked with the very talented Pere Wihongi, Dan Martin, Nathaniel Howe and the Waiata Nation crew to bring this single to life. We recorded the E Kii single all in one day at Parachute Studios and filmed the video clip the next day. It was a massive adrenaline rush, loved every bit of the journey!

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

I hope that listeners feel inspired by the sound, that they find their own meaning within the story, but mostly groove out to it as much as we did putting it together.

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

I feel like it’s a wairua thing. If the song sits well with my soul, has a strong message and its own unique sound, then I feel like people will vibe out to it too.

Who else is in your team?

Currently, I am working with Dan Martin who records and produces all my music; the maestro. He’s also a wicked mentor and helps me navigate the music scene a little better. I also receive great advice and support from my tuakana Nathaniel Howe who was a huge part in bringing the E Kii single together.

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

Currently, I am working on an EP under Mohi that I plan to release early next year, with the hope to drop a new single or two later on this year (lockdown level dependent). Keep an eye out for that, fam!

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

  • Rob Ruha: Kei Te Haramai Te Wā
  • Sola Rosa feat. Iva Lamkum: Turn Around
  • Ranea: Tāwhirimātea

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

I have applied for NZOA funding previously, but haven’t quite cracked the funding yet. I’m hoping that releasing more music will give me a better chance for future funding rounds.

This is the first time I’ve applied to be on NewTracks and I’m super stoked to be selected. My advice would be to back yourself! If music is your passion, then keep at it, keep creating, keep applying yourself, it’s only a matter of time, fam.

Was there an NZOA criterion you struggled with in the application? 

The most challenging criterion in the application would have to be making the target amount of music streams. Opportunities like NewTracks are incredible because they give newer artists like me exposure to bigger audiences, and hopefully more listeners jamming out/streaming my music.

Are there any musical blogs, Youtube channels or podcasts you’re super into?

Tiny Desk and Colors Show are definitely my go-to Youtube channels.

Also, love me some Māori-led podcasts; The Taumata Kōrero by Raniera Harrison & Taringa Podcast by TWOA.

Who did you make the video with?

I’m very fortunate to have had the talented Nathaniel Howe produce and direct the music video. Te Rangi Henderson, Ngārangi Tipene-Leach, Mikey Bateman, Tanya Haitoua-Cathro and the whole Waiata Nation crew who helped bring the story to life.

Any last words?

Special mihi to NZOA and NZ Musician for giving emerging artists like myself the opportunity to showcase our music on an amazing platform like NewTracks. Massive shoutout to everyone for all the love and support! Nui te Aroha!