The funky voice of Maori pride


By Norm Dixon

AEIOU Akona Te Reo [Learn the language]
Too many tears, for too many years
We've been crying alone
Now's the time to make up your mind
Listen to your own
If you learn about yourself and your history
Know where you come from, you know where you want to go
It's a global thing, happening for a while
Because we choose to learn about ourselves

Popular New Zealand band Moana and the Moahunters' latest single, "AEIOU Akona Te Reo", is a call for young Maoris to be proud of their culture, their language and their heritage rapped to a contemporary dance beat. Maori pride is a theme of the Moahunters' performances, Moana, the group's lead singer, told Green Left while visiting Sydney recently.

Moana and her seven-member band are attempting to create an unusual mix of pop and politics. She began singing to help pay her way through law school, but "half way through I began to think that the law system was pretty stuffed up, so I decided I didn't want to practice and seriously went singing instead". She has used her legal knowledge for research "aimed at either demystifying the law or showing people the real history of colonisation in New Zealand".

This political commitment is expressed in her music: "We are always trying to fuse traditional Maori music into contemporary reggae, soul and funk. So we use chants, the Haka ... on stage [we] are trying to develop a new dance style that mixes traditional dances with the modern. We're not just cloning the American stuff.

"But we aim to entertain — I don't want people to come and sit there and be bored or to go away depressed — so we have a lot of songs that people can sing along to, dance along to ... As far as writing songs, I figure that if you've got 28 bars in a song you may as well fill it up with something more deep and meaningful than 'I love you, baby, baby'."

"AEIOU Akona Te Reo" started as a jingle played on a Maori public radio station in Auckland where Moana worked. "We mucked around with it and built up a song and the message was to learn Maori language and it did work."

But this spirited message of black pride has not been well received by commercial radio stations. Very few will play it because they claim it is "too preachy". "But they'll play M.C. Hammer [singing] 'get down on your knees and pray' ... A lot of it is to do with the fact it's got a Maori chorus line. One program director told me that his station didn't play it because they refuse to play foreign languages!"

That reaction illustrates how much further the struggle for the recognition of Maori culture still has to go, and many Maoris are taking up the challenge. "My father's generation had a really hard time having their language [suppressed], having their mouths washed out with soap ... That resulted in my generation not being brought ut now a lot of my generation are consciously trying to learn it. I've gone into a total immersion situation; we speak nothing but Maori at home."

"Black Pearl", another recent Moahunters hit, which reached number two on the NZ charts, also carried a strong political theme. "It's all about how black women have been working away in the background but the foreground is where they belong! It's a black woman pride song.

"In 1990 the government was celebrating 150 years of the Treaty of Waitangi, and a lot of Maoris weren't getting excited about it. I decided 'Black Pearl' would be a good anthem for Maori women during that year, given their statistics are so terrible as far as health, education and imprisonment are concerned. The message was that all women, especially Maori women, are precious."

The Moahunters are "a kind of underground band", Moana told Green Left. The band has a very strong Maori following, a strong following among feminists and a growing Pakeha audience.

The band has played benefits to support Kanak independence, Maori rights, women's refuges and AIDS research. Despite having close friendships with many people in the radical NewLabour Party, she has yet to be convinced that any existing parliamentary party in NZ can empower the Maori people.

The singles "AEIOU Akona Te Reo" and "Black Pearl" are available in Australia. The band's first album is scheduled for release here in February through Festival records.

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