As the Senior Maori Development Manager of Massey University-based tertiary teaching centre Ako Aotearoa, chair of Puatatangi (the music subset of Maori arts organisation Toi Maori Aotearoa), and a board member of the NZ Music Commission, Ngahiwi Apanui continues to be as actively involved in Maori music, broadcasting and the promotion of te reo Maori as he was 25 years ago – then as guitarist and leader of ground-breaking late 1980s band Aotearoa. For the last five years he has been event manager of the vibrant Maori music showcase event Pao Pao Pao! This year a song from his own very personal album ‘Matariki’ was a finalist for APRA’s Maioha Award – which he won already back in 2003 with his song Whaarikihia – as well as that year’s ‘Best Mana Reo Album’ Tui for ‘E Tau Nel’. ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick’ might well be a suitable metaphor for Ngahiwi, only he seems way too nice to actually use the stick, if he carried one.
When and where was this photo shot? Who took it?
The photo was taken in the summer of 1986 at the Grey Lynn Festival in Auckland. I have no idea who took it, but it somehow ended up at the Jayrem Records’ office.
What are some of the the key things you remember of that day?
Firstly, I remember a very nervous fill-in on keyboards, who also happened to be our manager. We had prepared some chord charts etc. for him but somehow he managed to lose them. The first three songs were a mixture of, “What’s the chords?”, “What key is it in?” and then, “I’m freaking out!” The poor bugger was paralysed with nerves and looking back it was a big ask to expect him to play at such short notice. It’s fair to say, that was not uppermost in my mind at the time and I was on the verge of clocking him with my guitar. In the end I just had to laugh and signal to the guy on the desk to take him out of the front of house.
Secondly, the crowd was over 10,000 and we were supposed to play second-to-last, with Patea Maori Club closing the day. At the last minute, Dalvanius (strategically I think) decided they had to go early and asked the promoters to take our spot. That led to everyone leaving at the conclusion of their set – with the exception of the 10 or so people in the photo sitting in front of the stage. So much for getting to a new Auckland audience!
Thirdly, Joe Williams was our lead singer at the time and was an exceptional frontman. He was trying to rev up the remnants of the big crowd who were basking in the beautiful weather and no doubt enjoying some of Aotearoa’s finest green (that distinctive aroma was wafting onto stage). After 20 minutes or so, in frustration, Joe said to the audience, “Gee you fullas are useless. Is it the weather or is it the rubber band?” As quick as a flash a woman in the small crowd retorted, “Nah, it’s you man. Shut up and sing!”
Where were you and the band at in your respective musical careers?
It was an important time because we had lost practically all of the founding members of the band [Aotearoa] with the exception of myself and Joe and we were trying to bring through some very young musicians. A 15 year old Maaka MacGregor can be seen playing percussion. Solomon Simmons on sax was only 16. Jon Wrigley on bass was 18. Lucy Fuli on vocals (middle of the picture) was only 16. Ngapera Hoerara (far left) and I were early-20s, Joe was mid-20s and Taimua Fuimaono was just a few years older. The newish band was still gelling and I was trying to keep everything within the group’s musical ability despite the impatience of some of the young guys who wanted to do all sorts of things.
Taimua and I were the most experienced members, he with Wellington blues/rock band Taste of Bounty and myself with a variety of cover bands. I had a very clear kaupapa (rationale) for the band and that revolved around te reo Maori and communicating pride in being Maori. I also wanted to move towards incorporating taonga puoro (traditional instruments) and waiata tahito (traditional song poetry) into our music, but culturally the band wasn’t ready for it. The band began to move towards its potential around 1987/88 and by the time of our last gig at Otago University in 1989, I felt Aotearoa had become a very strong live act.
You have been heavily involved in Maori music and broadcasting since, what of the others in the band?
Most notably Joe Williams is now Justice Joe Williams, a highly respected member of the NZ High Court. Ngapera Hoerara is working for Te Puni Kokiri, on projects like the RWC. Jon Wrigley was a carpentry apprentice at the time of the photo but last I heard he was living in the Bay of Plenty. Taimua went on to play in a variety of bands mostly with family members. Solomon has had a nomadic existence but is now living on the East Cape of the North Island looking after the whanau homestead. I haven’t heard from Lucy since she finished with the band. Maaka MacGregor has made a living out of music producing, engineering and playing most notably with Moana and The Moahunters, Southside of Bombay and Wai.
How has being a musician defined your own career path?
The reality of having a partner and children has probably had the biggest influence on my career path. I have kind of fitted my music around them and with my partner; I have made decisions around what’s best for them. A common theme in my career choices has been working in areas where I can be of benefit to Maori people and this includes music. In recent years I have been the chairman of Puatatangi (the music arm of Toi Maori Aotearoa) and event manager for annual Maori Music Showcase, Pao Pao Pao!, furthering the interests of Maori musicians. It’s fair to say however, that in an environment where self- promotion is king, it’s frustratingly hard work.
Can you give us a potted version of your commercial (and musical) career to date?
• 1985 Recorded ‘Maranga Ake Ai’ single and launched the band Aotearoa.
• 1986 Released Aotearoa debut album ‘Tihei Mauriora’.
• 1987 Released second Aotearoa album ‘He waiata Mo Te Iwi’.
• 1989 Released my debut solo album ‘Te Hono ki te Kainga’.
• 1993 & 1994 produced the ‘Manu Waiata’ compilations for Radio Ngati Porou.
• 1998 Produced ‘He Pounamu’ compilation for Maori Radio
• 2002 Released second solo album ‘E Tau Nei’.
• 2003 won the Tui for Best Maori Album and the inaugural APRA Maioha Award for the song Whaarikihia.
• 2006 Took over the event management of Pao Pao Pao!
• 2007 Became chairman of Puatatangi.
• 2008 Became a board member of the NZ Music Commission.
• 2011 Released my third album ‘Matariki’.
Which of your roles have given you the most satisfaction – and why?
I really enjoyed writing and producing ‘Matariki’. The album was about re-establishing my musical identity and with the assistance of my partner Hinerangi Barr, we wrote, planned and managed the project and produced something that reflects me musically, that belongs to us and our whanau. That partnership is something I value and I look back on the experience with much pride.
The chairmanship of Puatatangi has also been satisfying at times but it has also been frustrated by a lack of money. For example, in 2008 I raised close to $45K in sponsorship for Pao Pao Pao! just to get us close enough to break even to make it worth taking the risk – we had a total bill of $94K and a deficit of $10K in the final wash up. To cover the deficit we didn’t have anything the following year. We now operate very much within the $30K a year we receive through Creative NZ which means a much smaller event reliant on the extra dough we pick up through our loyal sponsors, a hell of a lot of unpaid work and the generosity of the musicians who see the kaupapa (cause) as more important than big dollars.
Congratulations on being a finalist in this year’s APRA Maioha Award. How long was your ‘Matariki’ album in the pipeline?
‘Matariki’ was a dream to produce and more or less worked to the schedule we had put in place. When working with Te Mangai Paho, you have to be highly organised to meet the accountability requirements of using public funds. My partner Hinerangi managed the whole process which we planned to take place over 6 - 8 months and we pretty much nailed it. I had applied unsuccessfully on several occasions from 2003 onwards so when I finally got a TMP grant, I had more than a few songs in the bank – there’s nothing worse than writing songs because you need them to fill an album.
Production-wise, we spent three days working with the band preparing for recording in October 2010. We spent five days at Matrix Studios in Wellington and then a month or so with Maaka MacGregor doing pick ups and mixing. Mastering was done in December 2010 and the release happened in May 2011.
Does it carry any particular messages for the listener?
The key messages in ‘Matariki’ for me are about te reo Maori and whanau. They are two very important factors in my life. Te reo Maori is still in jeopardy even though it is an official language and has a government agency dedicated to its survival. The answer from my perspective is very simple; encourage and allow all New Zealanders to learn and speak te reo. I would love to see some of our well known artists use te reo as a show of support. Finally when everything and everyone else takes their leave, you only have your whanau to fall back on – I couldn’t be without my partner and children, and wouldn’t be where I am without the heroic efforts of my mother.
Do you have any issues about the opportunities for Maori music to gain the same breadth of exposure as non-Maori?
From my perspective everything is in place for Maori music to be recorded, promoted, played, sold and celebrated. However, Maori music is a very small part of the very small NZ music industry and market. There is a small group of people working together for the benefit of all and no common strategy/vision to guide those people. There is a lack of skilled managers and few opportunities to facilitate the discussion and furthering of musical ideas. In some areas we have shot our selves in the foot. For instance the existence of Maori Radio is a big out for mainstream radio that now ‘leave’ it to Maori Radio to play music in te reo Maori. The solutions are to be found within the membership of the Maori music industry with some assistance from our friends outside of it who can see the opportunity and can ‘open ears’ to that opportunity.
The biggest obstacles I see for Maori music is self interest, the aping of overseas trends and working in silos. The biggest opportunity lies in developing Maori music from its community so that it becomes an integral part of their lives – the artists and the music will come from there.
Is the separation of public funding opportunities and Government agency support for Maori still appropriate in the internet era?
I think it is absolutely essential to retain a separate pot of funding for te reo Maori. I worry that within an institution whose focus is not Maori, that that its mana will be lost amongst other considerations. A respected Maori academic once said, “… in a bicultural organisation, you are only as Maori as the dominant partner will allow you to be”. The important thing is that TMP and Te Waka Toi are aware and factor in the technological environment we now exist in.
If you have any oblique strategies that help you stay motivated as a creative person what are they?
Finding quiet time to slow down and rest yourself spiritually. Always being open to other world views and perspectives. Constantly questioning and challenging your own world view – good food for the soul.
Who has been the most imposing character you have ever been in the presence of?
Herbs’ bouncer Foot. He was about to beat me senseless when he found me backstage at a gig collecting my guitar and amp after playing support. Had it not been for road manager Manolo, I may have wound up in hospital.
What would you consider your proudest achievements?
Aotearoa’s second album ‘He Waiata mo te Iwi’, the Tui and APRA Maioha awards in 2003 and ‘Matariki’.
Is there one mistake that you learned more from than others?
The horrendous live debut of Aotearoa on TV show Radio With Pictures in 1985. I became a firm believer in putting in the hard yards in rehearsal on your own and with your band so that your live show is the best it can be.
The best advice you ever got was…?
Always have a plan. No matter how busy you are, take time out to get your values, process and way forward right. The old cliché is “fail to plan, plan to fail”.