Four Māori Artists That Are Changing The Game In NZ Right Now
Musicians play a huge role in helping to keep ‘te reo Māori’ (the language of the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand) alive.
Thankfully, there are plenty of great musos stepping up to the mic to do just that. In honour of Māori Language Week, we’re highlighting four indigenous artists who are using te reo Māori to create groundbreaking new tunes. Hit songs that double as tools for cultural awareness and social change? Hell yeah.
First up is thrash metal band Alien Weaponry. Ethan Trembath and Henry and Lewis de Jong channel their anger towards colonial oppression into their music, and they’ve created some serious bangers in the process.
These guys don’t shy away from tough subject matter. One of their most popular singles, 'Rū Ana Te Whenua’ (The Trembling Earth) describes a bloody battle between the British and Māori people in 1864, known as the Pukehinahina (Gate Pa) battle, which took the life of one of their ancestors. Their fresh take on heavy metal has made Alien Weaponry one of NZ’s biggest music exports since Lorde, with the US's Revolver magazine recently calling them “one of the most exciting young metal bands in the world right now”.
Next on the list is Rob Ruha. Rob has won heaps of awards since he released his first EP back in 2014. Rob uses his music - a mixture of cool funk and R’n’B soul - to speak out and grow awareness around a range of social issues in NZ.
Rob’s been making headlines of late after he released his latest tune ‘Ka Mānu’, which he wrote in support of the reclamation movement at Ihumātao. The tune features a number of Māori artists, including Maisey Rika, Majic Pāora, Bella Kalolo, Ria Hall, Seth Haapu and Troy Kingi. Rob told the Gisborne Herald that he hoped the song would encourage indigenous people in NZ and beyond to “keep the faith” in their battles for equal rights.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT Henare Taratoa March 1864 Rule 1. If wounded or (captured) whole, and butt of the musket or hilt of the sword be turned to me (he) will be saved. Rule 2. If any Pākehā a being soldier by name, shall be travelling unarmed and meet me, he will be captured, and handed over to the direction of the law. Rule 3. The soldier who flees, being carried away by his fears, and goes to the house of the priest with his gun (even though carrying arms) will be saved; I will not go there. Rule 4. The unarmed Pākehās, women and children will be spared. ALBUM OUT NOW!
Ria smashed her way onto the scene in 2012, winning Best Māori Album at the NZ Music Awards for her self-titled EP. Her debut album, Rules of Engagement, followed in 2017 and cemented her place as one of the country’s most talented vocalists.
The power of Ria's music lies not just in her vocals, but in the stories she tells. Much of her work is dedicated to recounting the history of Māori people. Her 2017 album centers around themes of war, love, revolution and change – and actually found its roots in a letter written by Henare Taratoa in 1886 to the then Governor of New Zealand, Sir George Gray. This letter, known as the 'Rules of Engagement', outlined how the Māori people and the British should conduct themselves during war.
A mixture of irreverant hip hop and trap, no one produces Kiwi tunes quite like Rei.
Since he first came onto the scene back in 2015, Rei has been making both English and te reo Māori music. Last year saw the release of his first-ever fully te reo Māori EP, Rangatira. He spoke to us recently about what the release of Rangatira meant for him as a Māori artist. “Now, rangatira, that means ‘chief’ [in English], and I try to make music that makes people feel like chiefs no matter who they are and where they come from,” Rei says.
What’s next for Rei, then? Well, he’d like to take te reo to the mainstream, getting listeners around the world singing and rapping along with him. “It’s been cool as to see how Reggaeton has had such a big global impact, even for non-Spanish speakers. One of my dreams is to do something similar with te reo Māori music and really break down those language barriers.”
Check out more of what Rei had to say below...
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