Mohi’s musical and vocal talent was first seen and heard on her 1992 debut single ‘Kia U’, on Tangata Records. The waiata was significant for its time, as it is one of the earliest contemporary popular waiata written all in te reo Māori, and it is kaupapa driven, with lyrics that articulate the mistreatment of Māori by tauiwi (foreigner, European) and speak of the need for Māori to stand up and fight. The lyrics pose the question, “if the wairua is not well, then how can we as Māori people be well?” It blended together popular music forms in a style that appeals to a mainstream audience.
Born in Waipukarau, Hawke’s Bay, Hinewehi Mohi grew up surrounded by te reo Māori. After boarding at St Joseph’s Māori Girls College, she studied at the University of Waikato under luminaries such as Te Wharehuia Milroy, Sir Tīmoti Karetu (later the translator for the 2019 Waiata/Anthems project) and Dr Hirini Melbourne. Mohi graduated in 1985.
Thirty years later, in 2015, the University of Waikato awarded Mohi the Distinguished Alumni Award for outstanding contributions in her career and excellence in her professional, cultural and creative communities.
Mohi was one of a unique cohort of Māori women at the forefront of New Zealand/Aotearoa music in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a group who did much to shape and progress Māori identity and cultural understanding through music. It was a significant era in which Māori women performers and songwriters – for example, Moana Maniapoto – were heavily engaged in expressing political and social commentary of the time through utilising contemporary musical styles such as hip hop, pop, jazz-folk, and dance, while fusing te reo Māori (Māori language) and taonga puoro (traditional Māori indigenous instruments) in their compositions.
One of the mentors Mohi credits with supporting her music career was Dalvanius Prime. “He taught me everything about showmanship and stage presence. He was the master of that,” she told the NZ Herald in 2013.
Mohi’s debut album ‘Oceania’ fused te reo Māori lyrics, melodies, harmonies and taonga puoro with modern dance beats.
Mohi released her first album, the double-platinum selling Oceania, in 1999. A collaboration with Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke, it fused te reo Māori lyrics, melodies, harmonies and taonga puoro with modern dance beats. The album yielded the highly successful single ‘Kotahitanga’.
The waiata once again combined a popular genre of house music beats and contemporary popular musical progressions and structures, layered with te reo Māori sung by Mohi that spoke of unity, solidarity and freedom for Māori. She told the NZ Herald in 2021, “Through music I have found a platform to really provide an access point for people to be able to access the language and the culture and experience it that way.”
It is estimated that 100 million people worldwide witnessed Hinewehi Mohi singing the New Zealand national anthem before an All Blacks match during the 1999 Rugby World Cup at Twickenham.
At the time, the performance galvanised public opinion in New Zealand/Aotearoa and abroad, with some viewers complaining that it was inappropriate because most New Zealanders did not speak or understand Māori. The incident sparked public debate about how people reacted to the singing of the anthem in general.
She recalls that at the time, the last thing on her mind was stirring up bitter controversy. Although Mohi does not see her actions as radical, looking back, she told TVNZ’s 1 News in 2021, “It was a moment in time that brought into question the priority for te reo Māori and I think it really highlighted the divisions as well.”
When Mohi sang the ‘E Ihowa Atua’ lyrics – the te reo Māori version with lyrics written by T.H. Smith (1878) – it changed the whole way in which ‘God Defend New Zealand/E Ihowa’ is perceived and sung by the New Zealand/Aotearoa nation.
After Hinewehi’s daughter Hinerakatauri was born with severe cerebral palsy, she established and co-founded the Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre in March 2004 with her husband George Bradfield (Ngāti Ranginui). The centre is named after her daughter and provides music therapy for people with disabilities. For both mother and daughter music has been the means of communication and connection between them.
Hinewehi explains the positive effects that music therapy has on her daughter: “Wow, her smile, that’s everything. That makes my love for her complete.” The Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre continues to help many New Zealanders in Auckland, Hawke’s Bay and Northland.
Mohi and Bradfield met at the 1998 Film and Television awards (AFTAs). In 2004 the couple set up Raukatauri Productions and launched the prestigious television programme Mōteatea, which was nominated for the Qantas Film and Television awards for Best Māori language programme.
After completing her academic studies in the 1980s, Mohi began her career in television production as a researcher, presenter, director and producer – she started as a reporter for prime time Māori programme Koha in 1986 – and she continues to produce programming for mainstream and Māori television.
In March 2004 Mohi established and co-founded the Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre.
Mohi was recognised as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2008. She has also amassed several awards and nominations in television, from the 2016 WIFT NZ awards for te reo Māori champion to the Qantas Film and Television awards for Best Māori language programme for Maumahara. Marae DIY, which she produced, won her a Qantas Television Award in 2007 for best reality show.
However, in 2011 Mohi was diagnosed with breast cancer, having a double mastectomy. Not one for self-pity, she admits it was an awful, life-changing experience. Her experience has led her to continue to raise awareness of the importance of early detection, particularly for Māori and Pacific women.
Having always been a champion for Māori music, Hinewehi Mohi project-directed the No.1 charting Waiata/Anthems album in 2019 and later produced the Waiata/Anthems television series. The project was developed primarily to translate and record iconic New Zealand/Aotearoa musical artists and to celebrate te reo Māori. It features artists such as Six60, Teeks, Stan Walker, Benee and many more.
2021’s Waiata/Anthems was released via TVNZ as a documentary short series following the creation of the waiata, starring Hollie Smith, Drax Project, Katchafire, Bic Runga, Che Fu, Melodownz and Annie Crummer. “These are stories of empowerment in accessing te reo Māori through waiata,” she says, “not just for artists but for audiences too.” (A second Waiata/Anthems album was released in September 2022.)
Dame Hinewehi Mohi continues to lead the charge for a bilingual music industry, supporting artists to embrace te reo Māori. Of her 2021 appointment as Dame Companion, Mohi told the NZ Herald the recognition was a wonderful tribute to all those who’ve supported her: whanau, hapū, iwi “and all the champions of te reo Māori who’ve been working hard to revitalise the language.”
Her unequivocal determination to grow a bilingual music industry and support the growth of Māori music in New Zealand/Aotearoa has earned her the position of Pītau-Whakarewa (Māori Membership Growth & Development Leader) for APRA/AMCOS NZ. She says that New Zealand/Aotearoa is blessed with a rich history of waiata reo Māori: “We want to support our kaitito waiata [songwriters] who have been fostering the language in song for many years. We also want to encourage those who are not so confident yet with te reo to write, record, and perform more.”
Mā te huruhuru, ka rere te manu
Adorn this bird with feathers so that it may fly
“It’s about the power of music – it’s about the power of music to connect us to each other and that’s where miracles happen” (Mohi, 2021)
Dame Hinewehi Mohi – ngā mihi nui, ngā mihi aroha.