3 May 2021

Rapa Nui Odyssey: Concert pianist Mahani Teave

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 3:08 pm on 3 May 2021

It was on a beat-up old piano, the only one for 3500km, that concert pianist Mahani Teave first discovered her gift.

But she would have to leave her home on Rapa Nui, Easter Island, to study piano and become an international concert pianist.

That journey took her all over the world.

Mahani Teave

Mahani Teave Photo: Mahani Teave

Ten years ago, she returned to open the island's first music school and has just released an album Rapa Nui Odyssey, funds from which will go to the music school.

In 1992 two retired classical musicians showed up on the island, Teave says, and brought with them an upright piano.  

Erica Putney, a classical violinist, was soon getting regular visits from Teave.

“After school I went on my bicycle to her house and said ‘please, please let me play your piano!’ As soon as she opened the door I was practically in the house.”

Putney agreed to give Teave lessons.

“Finally, she agreed and said you can come and practise at my house every day, after school just come here.

“She didn’t have any beginner scores, so she gave me really difficult music almost immediately.”

Music runs in the blood of the islanders, Teave says.

“The Polynesian blood is very artistic and probably the ocean makes you more creative and have lots of inspiration.”

Eventually it became clear that Teave had a special gift but would have to leave the island to further it.

A Chilean pianist Roberto Bravo visited Rapa Nui and encouraged Teave’s mother to take her to Chile to continue her studies.

It was something of a culture shock for the family, she says, but Bravo took Teave under his wing as a musical mentor.

“The Chilean pianist who came to the island...discovered me, he has this concept that the music must go to every place and to everybody.

“He would invite me to play in his concerts for example in big, big important halls with very elegantly dressed people and the next day we would go and play in slum or in a jail or a hospital.

“You would be so, so surprised what reception the people had in these more unusual places, such open hearts and gratitude for taking the music to them.”

She grew as a person from playing in such places, she says.

“I’d play Bach in these places and you could not imagine a more respectful audience, who never in their life had heard Bach but were profoundly moved because this is music that touches the spirit so deeply that you cannot help but be in awe of this music.”    

Teave never thought she would be able to return to Rapa Nui, she says.

“There is this saying here [that] everyone who is from the island can leave for years but they will always return because we have a connection to our land which is so, so strong.”

But with no piano on the island that was not a possibility for a working classical pianist.

“I couldn’t even come for long periods because I could not practise, and concert pianists must be practising all the time.”

In 2008 she mentioned in an interview that there was no piano on the island and an old friend got in touch to suggest they do something about it.

That started a ball rolling that has kept her on the island since.

She co-founded an NGO Toki Rapanui which undertakes various projects to improve the lives of the people on the island.

The island now has a music school, she says.

“We started construction of the music school in 2014, although the lessons had already started in 2012.

“It’s a construction model called Earthship biotecture which uses recyclable materials, we used tens of thousands of bottles and cans and car tyres, we produce our own energy with solar panels and we have our own rainwater collector.”

And now she has released her debut album Rapa Nui Odyssey a collection of songs close to her heart, she says.

“I recorded pieces that were very close to me, good friends, we had lived many different periods of my life together.”

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