By Richard Thorne
About two years ago I was privileged to see honey toned Gurrumul (from the Northern Territories) performing his unique re-interpretation of the songs and stories of his own Gumatj clan. Immediately I felt a tinge of pride as I drew a parallel to the rich catalogue of music in Te Reo emerging here in Aotearoa. It was with the same admiration that I approached Ngahiwi Apanui’s new work. Formerly of the seminal reggae band Aotearoa, Apanui’s a staunch advocate of Te Reo and was in the vanguard of the use of taonga puoro as documented in 1989’s Te Hono ki te Kainga. Matariki is the Maori name for the group of stars also known as the Pleiades star cluster or The Seven Sisters. Traditionally it not only determines the productivity of the year’s crops, but is also an important time for family to gather and reflect on the past and the future – very much what Apanui’s work here is about. The album opens with an electro-thump call to support the revitalisation of the language (Tātai Hono), before sliding into original reggae-driven, yet familiar melodies (including a delicious Pacific-reggae Pōkarekare Ana). The album weaves a tapestry of contemporary and traditional songs about whanau, unity, death and peace. Six songs are performed as song poetry, with sparse moving chants, accompanied by haunting percussion. The most outstanding is Tēnā rā te Ara, which documents the genealogy of his youngest daughter. Whilst a little weak in voice, Apanui still manages to convey deep emotion, especially on Kō Kō (a tribute to Maori resilience in the modern day) and his moving ballad, Tukua/Surrender. Apanui avoids the political and talks of the beauty and strength of whanau and culture – a message I also gleaned from Gurrumul.