Te Pari o Auahatanga -‘The Flood of Inspiration’ - is an apt title for an album made by a group of musicians who were caught out twice by the Whanganui River in flood.
What are we being told?” Tāonga Pūoro player and maker Alistair Fraser asks.
The group, who call themselves Auaha, grew out of a Tāonga Pūoro wānanga in Whanganui in 2015, which brought together enthusiasts and teachers of the Māori musical instruments from all over Aotearoa. That weekend saw the biggest flood on record in the town and the musicians were stuck for several extra days, with all roads and bridges cut off when the river breached its banks.
We started to think, well what about the kaupapa of composing for the river, and on the river?” says Alistair.
In April this year six musicians - Elise Goodge,Ariana Tikao, Alistair Fraser, Matiu Bartlett, Te Paerata Tichbon and guide Charles Ranginui - left from Pipiriki in waka. They were later joined by drummer Brad McMillan and engineer/producer Sasha Keating.
This journey resulted in 12 new compositions inspired by the stories and natural environment of this amazing part of Aotearoa New Zealand. After paddling and recording on the river for three days, the group then recorded most of the album at Koriniti Marae on the banks of the river, and at the Whanganui Musicians Club at the mouth of the river.
The disparate styles of the group members including roots, rock, neo-soul, traditional Māori chant, and tāonga pūoro, has resulted in an album that is eclectic and surprising. Blending history, cultures, backgrounds and disciplines of the artists involved. Auaha represent a journey into what indigenous music was, is and can be.
There was a Pīwaiwaka that came into the whare at Koriniti as we were getting flooded again. We saw that as a bit of a warning, retrospectively. It wouldn’t leave us alone - and then we had to leave later that day,” says Ariana.
The group got a phone call from Civil Defense, telling them to get out now, or they could be stuck for up to three weeks. The group packed up their entire recording studio and gear and were on the road within an hour.
On the way out there were slips, we had to clear a couple, but we got back okay,” says Alistair.
In some ways it just added to our sense of kōtahitanga within the group, that we really banded together, around that happening. And also just the message from the river - that it’s always present, and we are beholden sometimes to the river and other forms of nature,” Ariana adds.
The rain had been persistent and noisy. The musicians built a womb-like sound booth out of mattresses to record instruments and voices in. “It was an odd space to be in while you were singing” says Te Paerata. “Pitch black and comfy on either side.”
Along as the group’s guide and photographer was local man Charles Ranginui, who even contributed a song to the album.
He knew all the stories of the caves, and the beautiful places to play,” says Alistair.“He told us to follow the bubbles, ‘cause that’s where the water’s flowing - and that led to one of Ariana’s songs.”
E Moko E’ is told from the point of view of the river, speaking to its mokopuna. “The bubbles are the aroha of the river to us,” explains Ariana.
They stayed at Charles’ ancestral home, Mangapapapa, on the way, about 65km downstream from Taumarunui and only accessible by river. Charles encouraged the musicians to play at the urupā (graveyard) where his brother had recently been buried. There they played pūtorino and purerehua, and recorded as a pīwaiwaka responded to the sounds.
As anyone who has travelled down the river in a waka can attest, the soup-like texture of the river and steep bush-clad cliffs on either side can make for some resounding acoustics.
“At one point, when we were in one of those areas, I did start singing, and we were playing some of our kōauau and putatara … you could just rest your paddles on the waka and go with the flow.”
No one tipped,” notes Te Paerata Tichbon, the youngest of the group, born and bred in Whanganui, now living in Wellington. One of the songs he wrote is called ‘Flow Down’. “I wrote it really fast, within half an hour of recording it. It’s about ways that the river is treated and looked after, and the way it treats us back.”
Auaha release their album with shows in Wellington and Paekakariki this Friday and Saturday.
More info at www.auahanz.com