23 Nov 2020

WATCH: NZ singers perform ‘Ka Waiata ki a Maria’ live at London’s Royal Albert Hall

From RNZ Music, 9:00 am on 23 November 2020

RNZ Music is excited to share this special live performance of traditional Māori Catholic hymn ‘Ka Waiata ki a Maria’. The performance is part of an hour-long show by 21 UK-based New Zealand singers, which is available to watch now.

A group of UK-based New Zealand performers have put together a beautiful online performance of English, Māori and Pacific songs. Whānau: Voices of Aotearoa far from home is an hour-long set recorded at London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall.

The project provides an essential working opportunity for the artists, who have been unable to perform to audiences due to COVID-19 restrictions.

"Many of us have struggled through the pandemic, unable to go home, be with our friends and family or even make music. This performance will bring us together, lift our spirits and those of our audience, and share NZ’s stunning music with the world,” Singer and event organiser Julien Van Mellaerts says.

“We hope you enjoy this concert: our ode to New Zealand.”

The performance features 21 UK-based NZ singers (click here for full list of performers), pianist Bradley Wood, conductor Tianyi Lu and the Ngāti Rānana London Māori Club.

These world-class performers have been unable to perform since theatres, opera houses and music schools closed in March, halting their main source of income. Many have been ineligible for government assistance and have struggled to support themselves.

“What started as just a simple idea of performing again has grown into something that is bringing dozens of performers together from NZ and London to share and celebrate our country, culture, and what unites us,” Julien says.

While the performance is free for all to enjoy, you can donate directly to the singers and musicians through their website whanaulondonvoices.com.  

Waikato-born Soprano Madison Nonoa: “It’s the proudest I’ve ever felt to be a New Zealander"

Words by Madison Nonoa

We are all, in a sense, small-town kids in a very big city. Some of us have been here years, carving out lives between the early morning tube rush-hours and those strange, northern winter skies that become midnight black at 5pm. Many of us haven’t seen our closest family members in a long time.

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Photo: Supplied

Others amongst us are the new kids on the block. They’ve arrived armed with the snacks shoved into their backpacks at Auckland International airport, their twanging kiwi accents marking them as the new blood. Nobody has given them a look of bemusement yet when they ask where the “eggs” are in Sainsbury’s. They’ll learn. 

The global pandemic has changed many things about the lives we thought we would have this year. The arts industries have been decimated by continued restrictions, and artists across every genre have faced disenfranchisement.

These conditions are tough, and will undoubtedly have long reaching consequences not just for the artists, but for our communities, too. That can’t be how our story finishes. We may be the small town kids, but we’re also the inheritors of that famous Kiwi “number 8 wire” mentality.

So long as we have our voices, our tools, we can do this. We can do our small bit to help fix this, even if “fixing” just means giving courage through music to continue facing what has been a really difficult year.  

There was a moment of wonder for each of us Kiwis as we walked onto the stage at the Royal Albert Hall a few weeks ago. This famous, iconic Hall, which has hosted practically every musician and band you could think of, from Adele to One Direction, to Jimi Hendrix, they’ve all stood where we stood that day.

Except for us, the Hall was completely empty and quiet. The pandemic has threatened the Royal Albert Hall with forced closure, an endangerment which made our experience even more special to us. What if we never had an opportunity to be here again? What if nobody did? 

After taking a few formal photos on the stage, our commander-in-chief, Julien, turned to us all and said “should we sing something?”

Ka Waiata ki a Maria is a Maori hymn written in honour of the Virgin Mary. The melody is simple, and designed to be sung by every one. We chose to open our concert with this piece because of appeal it has to the heart, through both music and language.

There is no harmony formally written in — each singer improvises a harmony as they feel, as is tradition back home. Most importantly, it’s a piece of music written to be sung by many. The more voices, the more powerful and beautiful it becomes. 

As we sang the hymn, our voices echoed around the auditorium and it felt like one of those moments you know you won’t forget. It felt defining. Each of us have our story to tell about the paths we have taken to be in London, the sacrifices we have made and the loved ones we have missed dearly.

The song was filled with this emotion, and though we were not allowed to touch one another physically because of the social distancing practices still enforced here in the UK, we were able to give this moment of connection to one another in a time where human connection has felt hard to come by.

It is the proudest I have ever felt to be a New Zealander, and I thought of my own family. My brothers and sisters, my grandparents, my mum and my dad. I wished that they could have been there to see it and feel it too. 

One question we’ve been asked a lot is why we chose not to include traditional operatic repertoire in our concert. Yes, we are all opera singers, either in training or already freelance. The truth is, we know, as singers who have grown up nourished by the cultural richness of Aotearoa, how singularly special the music is from home.

We are proud to be able to present classic song compositions from our New Zealand composers, and we are equally proud to present Maori, Tongan and Samoan waiata that carry a mana which sustains us, not just as performers, but as people. These songs are taonga and we do not take it lightly that we are ambassadors for them now. We want our community to hear this music and to hopefully love it as we do.

Lastly, and most importantly, one of our whanau voices was not able to get back to New Zealand to say goodbye to his mother when she passed away this year. Phil, your strength and courage has been a guiding light to us all and we stand with you in presenting this concert in honour of your mum. 

Whanau: Voices of Aotearoa performers

  • Julien Van Mellaerts
  • Madeleine Pierard
  • Filipe Manu
  • Madison Nonoa
  • Benson Wilson
  • Phillip Rhodes
  • Isabella Moore
  • Kieran Rayner
  • Marlena Devoe
  • Sophie Sparrow
  • Katherine McIndoe
  • Christie Cook
  • Claire Egan
  • Kamilla Dunstan
  • Rhonda Browne
  • Carleen Ebbs
  • Clinton Fung
  • Leila Alexander
  • Kamilla Dunstan
  • Jonathan Eyers
  • Harry Grigg
  • Jarrod Lee
  • Benjamin Reason
  • Bradley Wood (pianist)
  • Tianyi Lu (conductor)