24 Feb 2024

LISTEN: Stan Walker on life, love and his new single, 'Māori Ki Te Ao'

From Music 101, 12:00 pm on 24 February 2024
Stan Walker in a scene from his new music video 'Māori Ki Te Ao' (Māori to the world)

Stan Walker: "Our reo is amazing. So spread it wide, and far.” Photo: Supplied

Stan Walker has a message for Māori in his new single 'Māori Ki Te Ao': "This is to say, ‘man, you're incredible. You're amazing. Our reo is amazing. So spread it wide, and far’.”

The song, which premiered on RNZ earlier this week, celebrates his identity as a "passionate" Tūhoe man, Walker tells Charlotte Ryan on Music 101.

“This song is paying homage but [is] also my love letter to my Tūhoe side, to my Tūhoetanga, where I come from."

Walker wrote 'Māori Ki Te Ao' with his uncle, Donny Te Kanapu Anasta, and called on three generations of Tūhoe whanau, including his uncle Tāme Iti, to help create the song and film the video in Ruatoki.

"This is a project that doesn't belong to me,” Walker says.

“It belongs to everybody that was involved. Uncle Tāme, my nephews, my uncle, my cousins, my mates that made this come to life. Having them in the video was incredible."

"This song is paying homage but [is] also my love letter to my Tūhoe side, to my Tūhoetanga, where I come from."

Stan Walker and Charlotte Ryan at RNZ, February 2024

Stan Walker and Charlotte Ryan in RNZ's Auckland studios. Photo: RNZ

Although Stan travels a lot, he's based in Whanganui with his wife, their two kids and a new baby arriving in a few weeks. 

"I love cruising with my wife. We're very different in terms of how we parent but we meet in the middle so that we're consistent. Sometimes when I go [away] she changes things up and I have to come back and [catch up]. It's the most beautiful thing. It's the most fulfilling thing ever and it just makes my purpose more purposeful … I want to leave a legacy for them so it's important for me the type of songs, the video, the imagery."

He's proud of contributing the song 'I AM' to the 2023 film 'Origin'.

After the "incredible" film director Ava DuVernay saw the viral video of Stan covering the Kanye West song 'Ultralight Beam', she called Stan and invited him to write a song for the soundtrack

"She sent me the film and it blew my mind away. "It talks about these different caste systems that predate what we know as racism. It gives us the whakapapa of what's happening today, in the world. I was fully educated. My heart was broken so many times through the lens of the story of Isabel Wilkerson who wrote the book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.

"I went in with a posture of 'I'm a Māori man, I'm already going to feel that I've had these experiences, my parents or grandparents, so on and so forth'. So I'm going in like 'Yep, I'm about to hate some colonisers.'

"By the end of the film I came out and my mind and my heart had changed, I felt connected to humanity as a whole.

"It wasn't like white, black, brown. It's actually these caste systems that have put us in these places … I just walked away feeling and asking myself questions of 'What do I need to do to be a better human being?'

"The film is full-on, man. You can't leave the same. You leave asking questions to yourself. You leave a little bit angry, a little bit hurt… but you leave feeling.

"I was like 'Man, humanity, we've all gone through it' and it's actually my job to help people on their journey, to bring hope, healing, love and joy.

"That's my prayer with myself and with my team before we hit the stage ... that's what my goal is to accomplish through whatever I do.

Stan says he wrote 'I AM' to help empower other people to find their roots and discover where and who they come from. 

"That was the whole goal [to get people feeling] yeah, I'm good enough. Actually, I'm incredible. Actually, I'm amazing - who I am, where I come from, who I come from."