RNZ music special: musicians’ musings on Matariki

A selection of prominent New Zealand musicians have talked to RNZ about what the Māori New Year means to them, as part of coverage of the first Matariki public holiday.

Photo: Supplied images

Hosts Kara Rickard and Mark James Williams (MC Slave) talked with some of New Zealand’s most well known musicians about what they’ve been prompted to think about this Matariki, and what it means to them for the country to be celebrating the day together.

Indie-pop singer songwriter Anna Coddington was already very familiar with the Matariki kaupapa, having previously delved into it to help produce a song about it, and to help create an app for children about Matariki.

“Matariki is part of a much larger star constellation, which is a waka [Te Waka o Rangi]- and the captain of that waka, Taramainuku – the waka goes down below the horizon, and when it rises back up again – Taramainuku has scooped up all the souls of all the people who have died in the past since last Matariki, and he flings them out into the sky to become stars. I thought it was such a beautiful korero.”

“You always hear these weird science facts like, ‘we’re all made of stardust’ – because actually we are -that’s the formation of the universe as we understand it. Even in Western science, that’s how it happened.

“We just came from this weird mass of atoms and formed into the people that we are and the go back and become part of the universe – it’s buzzy.”

Anna Coddington

Anna Coddington
Photo: supplied

Helping create the app, Te Mātahi a te tau, meant also learning about the traditions of iwi who don’t celebrate Matariki, but look to Puanga instead.

“That was really cool to learn about those traditions … for some people [further south in New Zealand] Puanga is just a lot clearer and easier to see. But all iwi have kōrero about all of these stars.

“It’s not like you’re either Matariki or Puanga, traditionally everybody knows about both of them, it’s just that some focus more on Puanga – Poaka [or Puaka] in the South Island – and some more on Matariki.”

Reggae band L.A.B wanted to do something special to mark Matariki, so are playing a Matariki concert in Wellington tonight.

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

Frontman Joel Shadbolt told Rickard and Williams that Matariki was an occasion for enjoying time together.

“It’s so cool that it’s finally being recognised formally, it’s always been a moment for family time, reflecting on the year past, and just having a feed together – which I’m sure we’ll do as an L.A.B whānau.”

L.A.B are Stu Kora, Joel Shadbolt, Ara Adams-Tamatea and Brad Kora.

L.A.B, with Joel Shadbolt second from left.
Photo: Supplied

Dave Dobbyn said Matariki brings home our place in this land, the connections between the generations and the importance of reflection both back on the history we’ve come from and on where our whānau are headed to.

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“I love the origin of it – the Pleiades. I had an amazing moment with my son when he was like two years old, I took him to the war museum… there were a couple of Dobbyn’s on the wall of fame, and that put me in a really reflective mood.

“I was kneeling outside with my little son and the sun was coming in and there was Rangitoto and the beautiful harbour and everything, and I felt this amazing space – like I could see back through time to what our forefathers and foremothers have given us, and then was looking ahead as to what sort of future this little guy’s going to have – it was a really powerful moment – that sounds like the essence of Matariki in terms of practical use.”

“I do think the part of it that I value the most is that looking ahead to the kids, looking for the future, thinking into the hearts and minds of kids growing up. Let’s look at those nine stars and hope for the future.”

Dave Dobbyn

Dave Dobbyn
Photo: RNZ / Dru Faulkner

In 2017 Dobbyn re-released his hit Welcome Home in te reo: Nau Mai Rā. He said despite not knowing te reo he had wonderful coaches who helped him with the pronunciation.

“It was amazing, I got all this traffic on Facebook – all these people appreciating it. It’s a rebirth of the song in another way.

“And I think it was deeply appreciated by a lot of people, and I just know that at some point I’ll be looking at mokopuna learning the poi and doing kapa haka with that song in mind.

Journalist and singer Moana Maniapoto told RNZ that recording her own show this morning on the first national Matariki public holiday was: “reflective, humorous, and it was an opportunity to reset.”

She has noticed a “burst of creativity” as many artists released offerings for Matariki.

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

“I think it’s lovely to have a celebration in the middle of the stink old New Zealand winter.

Moana Maniapoto

Moana Maniapoto

She had taken time to think about the people who have died in the past year, and planned to join her partner Toby Mills for the release of his documentary Whetū Mārama – Bright Star, about celestial navigator Sir ‘Hek’ Busby.

Thirty years ago, she said, there wasn’t widespread knowledge about what Matariki was, even among many Māori.

“It was colonised out of us. I didn’t grow up with it. I interviewed Sir Hek Busby for an event… many years ago, and I talked to him about it, and he said no, all he knew about it was that you go and gather a certain kind of seaweed around this particular time of the year. But I never heard my father and his brothers talk about it.

“That’s fantastic that through the efforts of a lot of people it’s come back and given us an opportunity to create and reaffirm our own indigenous spirituality, and connect us back to the environment.

“I think it’s very exciting. We didn’t grow up with Matariki, but we’re here to embrace it, and thrilled that a younger generation [is here for it]. I had to go to my daughter to reel off the stars – there’s this whole cohort of young people who can confidently navigate by the stars – how handy is that!”

Indigenous band IA (L-R: Pianika Duncan, Turoa Pohatu, Moetu Smith and Reti Hedley)

Photo: supplied/Promotional

Hamilton band IA, recorded a Matariki greeting for RNZ for the day, and a special version of their song Whetū, (which means: star), which reflects on the ideas behind Matariki: “It acknowledges the past, present and where we are at, and the the future we have in front of us.

“It acknowledges our ancestors, our whānau and friends who’ve gone beyond the veil of darkness beyond the stars, beyond the whetū. It also takes into account that the laid down the foundational work for all of us here today … and it acknowledges we all have an opportunity to renew and reinvigorate the path that we choose to take.”

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Troy Kingi
Photo: Faanati Mamea

Troy Kingi and Delaney Davidson collaborated for 2021 album Black Sea Golden Ladder, and talked together to RNZ about Matariki together.

“I think it’s just cool that [Matariki] has crossed over to mainstream, and people that might not know, get to learn what it’s about,” Kingi said.

“It’s a real good start just learning our Māori heritage, and tikanga that’s been around for a long time – the only way to keep them alive is to keep them going.

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

Delaney Davidson

Delaney Davidson
Photo: Supplied

Davidson said the unique New Zealandness of Matariki is something special to treasure: “Observing the time of the year in a way that means something to us as a motu, as a country, as a nation, and not just some European thing.

“The time of taking stock and predicting or looking to what is coming, that internal saying goodbye, that’s in the New Year time in Europe because that’s the middle of winter there – that doesn’t relate [here].

“We have these amazing Christmas on the beach – give yourself a surfboard – but to have something that really connects to us, to have those introspective times, I think that’s important we have that, and it’s specific to us.”

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