Te Kaahu is the Te Reo Māori project of Em-Haley Walker aka Theia, whose self-titled debut EP landed in the NZ Official Top 40 and album charts in 2017. Alongside various collaborations she has been releasing alt pop music as Theia ever since, establishing Te Kaahu as its own Reo Māori musical existence independent from her other projects.
‘Te Kaahu O Rangi’ is the debut release from Te Kaahu and is entirely in te reo. Produced by Jol Mulholland it’s an independent project in which the pair have woven a thoughtful tapestry of lyricism and sound, following a well-constructed two-part path of breathy harmonies, backed by dreamy reverb and stripped-back production.
Opening track Te Kaahu O Rangi immerses in a capella sounds of soft voices. It feels like it is being sung in a cave where the sound and story echo mana around solid surrounding walls. The high vocal range stays present throughout the rest of the album, sometimes brushing softly over a slightly lower harmony to create a delicate lulling mood. This album’s singer-songwriter acoustic style feels familiar yet entirely different because of its centre in te reo. The power that is present in the language impacts the mood and feel of the music entirely and brings new energy into the stripped-back style.
‘Te Kaahu O Rangi’ was created as a tribute to Theia’s tūpuna wāhine. She has described the waiata as the music she knows her “…grandmothers would’ve danced to, cried to, and loved.” The songwriting throughout is mainly metaphorical and symbolic, honouring the way Māori storytelling has always been crafted.
The vocals throughout are soul-touching, with clear and compressed consonants and rounded vowel sounds that draw the listener in. Overall the album stands out as calm, smooth and refreshing. A balanced mix of Māori strumming patterns and melodies mixed with clean vocal production and recording techniques brings these waiata into a charmed light. Each is sung with a fragility that can draw even those without an understanding of the language into the emotional intention of the music.