Uekaha Taane Tinorau (of Ngāti Maniapoto descent) was raised in Waitomo, one of 18 children. In the mid-60s the government initiated the Māori Trades Training Scheme, and Uekaha was dispatched to Christchurch for a panel-beating apprenticeship. Uekaha quickly discovered that few in Christchurch could pronounce his name so he rechristened himself Bob. It was only later that he returned to his Māori roots. Apprenticeship completed, he remained in Christchurch, married Lyn Jarman, and raised a family – Maureen, Ninakaye, Nathan (called Tiki from a young age) and Anaru (born with cerebral palsy and who died at aged seven). Both parents and both sisters have played a large part in Tiki’s career.
Lyn, as a Pākehā mother of Māori children, decided that she should learn te reo Māori (she later became a tutor in Māori Studies at Lincoln University). Bob and Lyn separated when Tiki was eight; Bob/Uekaha was later drawn to Māoritanga and returned to his roots. Much has since been made of Tiki’s subsequent wayward ways but he is quick to stress that it wasn’t due to a broken family and, indeed, “It was no more or less than most teenagers.”
Still, when he was 12, after one close call too many with the law, Uekaha gave Tiki an acoustic guitar, teaching him what he knew. Before long, Tiki was the better musician. An electric guitar followed, along with a love of hard rock (Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer, etc) and, aged 14, he formed his own four-piece band, Cultivation, which played 100% original material. “I was the one who brought the songs to rehearsals,” he remembers, ”but they really became collaborative efforts.”
“The other guys were all three or four years older than me and a bit more worldly. It was a pro-marijuana group and I’ll always remember our first gig. My mum, my number one fan, who’d never smoked dope in her life, was standing on a chair with a camera in a room filled with marijuana smoke!”
It was during this period that Taane enrolled at Te Rūnanga o Ngā Maata Waka, training for his Certificate in Audio Engineering. Taane was a natural behind the desk and by the time Cultivation disbanded in 1993 and he had joined existing hard core metal band Braaspadeak, he was already mixing other Christchurch bands.
Although hard rock was to remain an interest, Taane’s musical tastes were broadening and attending his first dance party was a revelation. “Apart from the music there was a different type of audience,” he recalls. “Braaspadeak were playing in pubs to a load of sweaty dudes moshing around. The dance parties had more girls! That led to me putting down the guitar and collaborating with Christchurch DJs as MC Rizla. It was a learning experience for me, sussing out techno and drum ‘n’ bass and dub.”
His expertise as a sound mixer was gaining wider notice, regardless of musical genre.
Meanwhile, his expertise as a sound mixer was gaining wider notice, regardless of musical genre. As well as Christchurch’s hard rockers, where his reputation was already established, he also mixed for Bunyip, the local reggae band, and touring acts as diverse as Head Like A Hole and Headless Chickens. In 1996 Andrew Penman of Salmonella Dub invited Taane to accompany the band on a national tour. It was the beginning of a relationship which lasted over 10 years.
In 1997, while on tour with Salmonella Dub, Tiki Taane composed a dub-reggae song, ‘For The Love Of It’, impressing the band, who recorded it for their next album, Killervision, and released it as a single. Featuring Taane on lead vocals, it provided Salmonella Dub with their first hit, peaking at No.12 in the NZ charts.
Catering to audience expectations, Tiki was now obliged to leave the desk to jump onstage every night. With songwriting and vocal contributions growing, by 2000 Tiki was spending the first half of the band’s gigs at the desk before passing on mixing duties to jump on stage for the second half. Inevitably, this led to Tiki leaving desk duties altogether and he became the face of Salmonella Dub.
Inevitably, this led to Tiki leaving desk duties altogether and he became the face of Salmonella Dub.
Despite this, with his love of production and sound mixing, Tiki Taane continued working with other bands, notably Shapeshifter, whose sound he has mixed from the beginning of their career in 1999, and featuring on recordings by Concord Dawn and Rhombus. In such demand, Tiki Taane’s career was a constant juggle and it was no surprise when he announced his departure from Salmonella Dub. His final performance with Salmonella Dub was on New Year’s Eve, 2006.
“I’d been writing other styles of music”, he says of his decision to leave Salmonella Dub. “I had been checking out my Māori side, and listening to a lot of hip-hop, writing a few acoustic songs not suitable for Salmonella. It was time to say, ‘thanks, guys, it’s been great but I gotta go.’“
Tiki immediately started on his first “solo” project, a full-length album, and, determined to control his career, he formed Tikidub Productions with his sisters Maureen and Ninakaye. As events would prove, this was a wise move but Taane admits that he wasn’t totally confident.
“I was a bit of a mess really. I was 30 years old, I’d been in a band for 11 years, which was like a brotherhood, and I’d been using drugs and alcohol for 15 years, living life pretty hard and pretty fast. I was broke, homeless, I’d moved out of the house with my girlfriend so I was single, pretty lonely, insecure and vulnerable. But through it I wrote some of my best music – ‘Tangaroa’, ‘Always On My Mind’, most of that first album.”
The chart-topping ‘Always On My Mind’ is one of NZ’s biggest-selling homegrown singles.
To kick-start Tikidub Productions, Lyn, Tiki’s mum, re-mortgaged her house, adding more pressure, but the three siblings went about it methodically, setting up a record label, a publishing company, merchandise r and a website. They needn’t have worried – the album, Past Present Future, was a huge success and the chart-topping ‘Always On My Mind’ is one of NZ’s biggest-selling homegrown singles.
“I was very lucky,” Taane acknowledges, “and I guess the stars must have been aligned or something. I think that the album is very real and very straight up, which I think struck a chord. And I owned it all! Royalties, publishing, maximum profit. And it was so cool to have my whānau involved, my sisters and my mum. My mum said that all I needed was a chance and she gave it to me; I will always be grateful for that.”
Suddenly, Tiki Taane was a superstar. There were full houses around the country, frequent television appearances, autographs in the street and everywhere there was that song. Taane is still at a loss to explain its success (the fourth best-selling single ever in NZ – more than any Elvis or Beatles release!) – “Yeah, I don’t know what it was, it just seemed to grow a life of its own. When I wrote it I’d knocked back a bottle of whiskey and mournfully recorded a demo. I was initially reluctant to release it; it made me feel vulnerable.”
While Tiki Taane had been rediscovering his Māoriness, his father too had returned to his roots. Reverting to his real name, Uekaha, he began performing and narrating for kapa haka concerts at Nga Hau E Wha Marae, then Ko Taane, the Māori cultural tourist venture at Willowbank in Christchurch. Featuring on Past Present Future as a cowriter and vocalist of 'Tangaroa', it was only natural that Uekaha accompany Tiki as a key member of his band The Dub Soldiers on the road. Teaming up with Waikato kapa haka group Te Pou o Mangatāwhiri, Tiki & The Dub Soldiers performed a dozen concerts with the full troupe, notably at the WOMAD, Homegrown, Splore, Coromandel Gold and Parihaka festivals. Tiki considers these performances a highlight of his career. “It was a huge honour for me to perform my music alongside them and for them to step into my world.”
There have been other highlights, not least being the performance of ‘My Lion’ at the opening ceremony of the 2011 Rugby World Cup, a collaboration with dubstep DJ Optimus Gryme with orchestration by the Auckland Philharmonia. In 2012, Tiki demonstrated his skill as a producer, producing the debut album of vibrant and popular NZ band Six60, which shot to Number One in the NZ music charts and won Highest Selling Album at the NZ Music Awards after achieving triple platinum sales.
"The remix album was my way of putting something back to the people I’d learned from because my heart is still in that underground scene."
– Tiki Taane
A second album of remixes, Flux, was released in 2009, followed by the chart-topping In The World Of Light in 2011 (featuring guests including Moana & The Tribe, Hollie Smith and Tiki’s father Uekaha). Taane explains, “After the mainstream success of ‘Always On My Mind’, the remix album was my way of putting something back to the people I’d learned from because my heart is still in that underground scene. The World Of Light album features hardly any acoustic music at all, an attempt to bridge the gap between mainstream and dubstep. I like all sorts of music and the way I see it, it’s like painting a picture – sometimes you want to use a splash of red, sometimes black and grey, sometimes the colour of the rainbow. It’s the way I approach music.”
In 2010 Tiki Taane was back in the singles charts with ‘Starship Lullaby’, with proceeds going to the Starship Children’s Hospital, but his charitable inclinations were overshadowed by an incident in April 2011 when he was arrested and handcuffed at a Tauranga performance. Taane had been performing NWA’s ‘Fuck Tha Police’ during a police inspection of the nightclub. The arrest made headlines for weeks, eventually resolved after mediation with the Police Department.
A live album with full orchestration, With Strings Attached, was released in February 2014. Looking to the future, a TVNZ documentary, and an acoustic album are planned, plus an album of unreleased Pauly Fuemana tracks, mixed by Tiki. Tiki Taane says, “It’s nice not be contained to a particular style of music, and owning my own label and studio gives me a free hand without some A&R guy interfering. I don’t have a financial obligation to a record company – I can do whatever I want.”
Tiki's early metal band Cultivation also featured future Loves Ugly Children and Future Stupid drummer/bassist Jason Young for their first gig, a NORML show at Canterbury University.