5 Sep 2018

How to get waiata fit! A step-by-step guide to singing at your workplace

From Nine To Noon, 11:07 am on 5 September 2018

If you know how to mutter 'Ka Mate' under your breath ahead of an All Blacks game then the next logical step is to learn a waiata. Yadana Saw presents a step-by-step guide on how to get your wāhi mahi (workplace) waiata fit

RNZ Waitata Roopu

RNZ Waitata Roopu Photo: RNZ/Kirsten Johnstone

Living in Aotearoa New Zealand means that sometime in your life you will be at a pōwhiri, mihi whakatau or function where you might need to bust out a waiata. 

Rather than hoping for old Rūaumoko (God of volcanoes and earthquakes) to come swallow your extremely whakamā (embarrassed) self, why not find your inner songbird with the same vigour Māui displayed when he hooked up Te Ika-a-Māui (North Island)?

In preparation for Te Wiki o te reo Māori 2018 and it's theme "Kia kaha te reo Māori", RNZ Music is proposing a wero (challenge) for you: start your own workplace waiata group by following these three easy steps.

1. Find Your Singing Posse

Gather your like-minded allies, or try the “all staff” email and see who turns up. Aim for no more than 30 minutes for your rehearsal.

Your organisation may have a diversity and inclusion strategy, in which case a waiata rōpū is perfect. Just ask the experts at Treasury, who have done exactly that. It's also about living and sharing the cultural values that are special to this land we live in.

As well as preparing you for any situation where you might need or want to sing a waiata, the act of singing itself is scientifically proven to be really good for you and your brain.

Practising waiata is also a really excellent way of improving your te reo Māori pronunciation, and you get to do something fun and non-work related with your colleagues!

You don’t need to be a good singer. You don’t even need a guitar player. To start, you just need to be a keen participant. Volume and numbers are more important than Mariah Careys, Dame Kiri Te Kanawas and Jimi Hendrixes.

Find a space to rehearse in. At RNZ we are a flying hit squad who turn up to sing in different departments, so those who are glued to their screens either join you, or are treated to an impromptu concert at their desk. Lunch rooms and meeting spaces are also good for rehearsing.

Make YouTube your friend. For good or bad, the online video platform is the 21st choir director. Most waiata have versions online - many include written lyrics - so play it through your phone or workstation and sing along with your waiata mates.

2. Assemble Your Repertoire

As tempting as it is to choose familiar favourites like 'Tutira Mai Nga Iwi' (make sure you’re singing the correct version) or 'Te Aroha',  there are many other waiata that are suitable for different occasions. Although familiarity can help build confidence and ability.

The many waiata penned by the late Dr Hirini Melbourne are a good place to start. His waiata have been the backbone of NZ’s primary school songbook. These will have the added effect of sparking happy nostalgia in your fellow manu tīoriori (songbirds).

READ and LISTEN to RNZ's Hirini Melbourne collection

It does pay to learn about your rohe (area). A lot waiata are especially written for the flora, fauna and geographic features particular to a region or area. For example, you might not sing ‘E tu Kahikatea’ if you live somewhere that is mostly populated with Pūriri and Kauri trees. The NZ Folk Song Website is a good place to begin your search for waiata.

Māori TV’s Iwi Anthems series is another useful resource if you're searching for appropriate waiata and want to learn about the origins of regionally specific waiata. 

If you have some children at your fingertips, find out what they sing at school or kindergarten.

Alternatively, your local union branch may also have resources.

Just a note, don't always ask your one Māori friend or colleague for answers. People don't always like to be human Wikipedias.

Some wāhi mahi, (workplaces) may have an organisational waiata chosen or specially written for them - like LIANZA (the library and information sector group), however, it might take a little bit of sleuthing to unearth - usually, it’s the institutional memory-banks who'll know. If you do find one - congratulations! You may proceed to Step 3.

3. Practice, practice and have fun

If you follow the RNZ method in less than 30 minutes a week you will be waiata fit.  

It’s less than a lunch break, healthier than a sugary snack from the vending machine, more sociable than sending three more emails, and cheaper than a yoga class.

In the time it takes to sing two or three waiata, you will move around, share an experience - and often a laugh - with your colleagues, and done some deep breathing because you’ve been singing.

There is nothing in your job that can’t wait 30 minutes while you have a sing with your colleagues.

For those of you feeling all hōhā (annoyed) that you can’t sing? Well, since when have you ever noticed anyone else's off-key squawking? That’s because everyone is too focused on trying to stay in tune themselves, remembering the kupu (words), pronouncing te reo phrases, keeping in time and sorting out their own singing, that they aren’t even listening to your koretake (useless) howling. Pull your head in and open your waha (mouth).

In conclusion, follow these steps to waiata fitness:

1. Before your practice, send out the waiata lyrics and videos to the songs.

2. Do a vocal warm up. This is actually really helpful in sounding more tuneful. Plus singing is way less embarrassing than vocal warm-up exercises!

3. Go through waiata lyrics kupu by kupu. Read through the lyrics aloud and together. Get the phrasing and pronunciation right and tino pai - you will be styling.

4. If you don’t have a guitar player among you, make sure you have the correct videos available on your phone or computer. Use some speakers if possible. Film yourselves and put it in the staff newsletter.

5. (Bonus level) Add some actions

Congratulations! You are now waiata fit!