Moana Maniapoto, a Ngāti Tūwharetoa musician, writer and documentary-maker rose to prominence in the 90s with her band The Moahunters (later The Tribe) and is one of the world’s most successful Māori musicians. She joins us to choose songs and share stories on the RNZ Music Mixtape.
UPDATE: 26/03/2019 Moana and Moanahunters have been awarded the Classic Record Award at the 2018 Taite Music Prize
Moana Maniapoto's musical life began at home with her parents: “My Dad was in a band and he always had a guitar and a ukulele handy.”
“He and his brother were awesome harmonizers and at our marae it was always custom that they would sing as everyone ate lunch. To my horror they would always flick the eyes at me and my sisters…’Oi oi, up you get’.”
Prince Tui Teka’s 'E Ipo' was a favourite on the marae. 'E Ipo' came out in 1982, the same year as 'Poi E' and Herbs’ 'French Letter'. The early 80s were a particularly creative time for Māori musicians, as well as a commercially successful one.
Yet Maori music has not seen such mainstream acceptance since. Having topped the charts in 1984, Patea Māori Club's 'Poi E' is the last te reo song to reach number one in New Zealand.
“It’s the reo that sticks in the craw of radio programmers” says Moana. “That’s the experience I had. Even when I sang about the language with 'A.E.I.O.U' [from Tahi] they refused to play it.”
When asked if, as a Māori musician, that situation is disheartening, Moana is pragmatic.
“I’ve made decisions in my career. The last recordings I’ve just done are totally in the language. So, I just carry on because it’s all you can do. And just create the music that you love and enjoy”.
Moana started her career whilst she was studying law, a path she would later become disillusioned with. She sang in covers bands to pay her way through school and provided backing vocals for TV shows in her spare time. It was the TV gig which created an introduction to musician and activist Dalvanius Prime.
“He called me up a couple of years later and we did this song 'Kua Makona'. Dalvanius became a very strong mentor for me.”
Whilst working with Dalvanius, Moana became aware of Wellington band Aotearoa. Impressed by songwriter David Grace, she soon joined the band.
“I always loved David Grace’s writing. And listening to a song like 'Rua Kenana' which is celebrating an amazing person from Mangapohatu, from Tūhoe, it really reaffirmed for me that we have our own Malcom Xs and our own leaders.”
“I love the power of music to connect people. Its shown me on our many travels overseas that it provides an opportunity to break down barriers but also open opportunities for other relationships to develop.”
Moana attended St Joseph’s School for Girls in Napier and it was there that she further learned the joy of performing with others as well as how to properly harmonize.
“When it’s happening on stage it’s like you’re in a vortex. You’re in this whole little universe and everything’s happening, like the bass and the vocals and the audience. Everything’s connecting and it’s so exciting.”