It was hard to narrow my song choice to just 10 songs, but these songs continue to be on my playlists. I like a real variety in music genres. If I had another 10 or 20 then I would have mentioned Herbs, Mahinaarangi Tocker, Annie Crummer (especially when she sings ‘Guilty’ by Dave Dobbyn), Peking Man, DLT and Che Fu, Aaradhna, Hollie Smith, Bic Runga, Netherworld Dancing Toys, Black Katz, Ria Hall, Maisey Rika, Troy Kingi, Tama Waipara, our amazing and wonderful and talented reggae bands, and of course, Six60. There’s also Ngoi Pēwhairangi, Dalvanius, and Prince Tui Teka. I love New Zealand country music too, such as Tami Neilson and Delaney Davidson, and in pop production I can’t go pass Joel Little and Lorde. I have the new upcoming artist Missy and Paige on my playlists as well as JessB and Coco Solid – love their attitude and flow. Plus Waiata Anthems 1 and 2. Gosh there is so much talent in Aotearoa, I hate to miss anyone out!
Do To You – Ardijah
Having been a fan for decades, I could not go pass Ardijah, who feature heavily on my playlists. I was thinking about adding ‘Watching U’ or ‘Time Makes The Wine’ but have opted for the remarkable ballad (original version) of ‘Do To You’, written by Ryan Monga. I have seen my cousins sing this song and learn the guitar chords for years now. The beautiful guitar chords and picking remind me of a Sade feel. They provide a harmonious foundation for Betty-Anne Monga’s exquisite vocals. One of the quintessential sounds of Ardijah is the slap funk bass; Ryan’s bass playing is exceptional. All these elements provide the perfect love song.
Kei Hea Taku Reo – Whirimako Black
The lyrical story and stunning vocals of Whirimako Black over a beautiful chord structure fill my heart with emotion. This is another waiata I can’t help but tear up over, because it holds such a personal emotional connection. It speaks of the loss of te reo Māori over the generations and reminds me of the struggle my grandparents and mother endured to keep their reo alive. The waiata calls out to our tūpuna, asking where is my language? Kei hea taku reo? – asking that it be returned. It is a waiata that is still relevant today, as we fight to revitalise te reo Māori, ever reminding us that our language is a gift.
Kotahitanga – Oceania
‘Kotahitanga’ was and is such a successful Māori dancefloor anthem! Written by Hinewehi Mohi and Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke, it fuses te reo Māori lyrics, melodies, harmonies and taonga puoro with modern dance beats. I love the house music beats and contemporary popular musical progressions and structures, layered with te reo Māori and how Hinewehi sings about unity, solidarity and coming together, which is what kotahitanga means. It starts strong with the lyrics “Whaka awe, awe, awe” which means be inspired, sung in harmony by Hinewehi and joined with vocal punctuation such as “he” and “ha” “aue” when the beat hits it brings a fast-paced tempo and musical elements such as synth. The guitar adds to this repetitive lyric and sense of urgency. The verse is fast paced and Hinewehi’s command of te reo Māori is captured in a melodic and rhythmic style that is unique. I just love the lyrics, the beat, the message and how it is so hooky. The video is stunning!
I Te Pō – Rob Ruha
It is always hard for me to get through listening to this waiata tangi without tearing up. With such elegant te reo Māori lyrics, this waiata beautifully captures the sentiment and deep emotions of grief. It speaks of sadness when losing someone so special and rare in your life (drawing on the analogy of the kotuku-white heron) that it leaves you mourning in sorrow and in darkness (I te pō: in darkness). Musically I relate to the use of the piano motif that reaches out in high singular notes, joined by the lower arpeggio that provides a mournful rhythm and melody. This is played with the hollow bass drum which sounds to me like a knocking of the heart. Rob Ruha’s voice is stunning and as always that produces a pure unique tone. You can hear the sadness, the pause of loneliness. The synergy between Rob’s voice and the choral sounding backing vocals is exquisite as together they reiterate the sentiment of sadness and yet it feels as if they act as a musical korowai. It is a stunning waiata tangi from a consummate songwriter and performer.
Leshgo – Rei
This song is such a dancefloor banger. I am totally drawn to the beat and bass which instantly makes me want to dance (not in a nightclub sense, more at home alone when no one is watching). It feels reminiscent of Black Box and Technotonix’s ‘Pump up the Jam’ which utilise the four on the kick against electronic bass. I love the production with the vocoder sounding chorus on Rei’s voice, not that I can make out all the words, but it is catchy! Rei’s rapping is infectious with a clever rhythmical style that we hear in all of his music, but what makes me smile in this song is his cheekiness and humour. He has his finger on the pulse when it comes to slang, utilising the popular word “leshgo” in the title. Rei is really adept in dropping te reo Māori kupu in his songs that the bilingual approach in his lyrics is seamless. The use of Pacific Island percussion drums also provides a unique Pacific feel. Production values and mastering are outstanding.
Midnight Marauders – Fat Freddy’s Drop
It is the unique blend of drum machines, synths with live instruments and vocals in an original dub, reggae, soul, jazz vibe that typically summarises the sound of Fat Freddy’s Drop. I have been a fan of their music for decades. Yet it is the song ‘Midnight Marauders’ that I continually revisit on my playlist. It repeatedly generates melody after melody, starting with a catchy synth bass line that sounds like a Roland TB 303, but probably comes from DJ Mu’s (DJ Fitchie) MPC collection or the Minimoog. It is joined by the brass section in a sleepy dub tune that plays in counterpoint to the bassline. These musical elements in themselves provide a laidback dub vibe, until they stop momentarily to introduce the soulful, smoky vocals of Dallas Tamaira (Joe Dukie) in a harmonious melodic riff that’s upfront and fills the mid-section, until all three musical elements are joined by a staccato guitar and a more reggae feel. The one drop beat and sub bass come in and you start to hear the whole song. It is this groove and vibe throughout the extended 6 minute 35 second song, with clever arrangements, that keeps me interested and locked in.
My Delirium – Ladyhawke
Ladyhawke – Pip Brown – blends electronica and rock guitar with a thumping dancebeat in ‘My Delirium’ that instantly makes me want to dance and jump around in a crazy head-swinging kind of way. I was intrigued by the title and the how the words “my delirium” work in the chorus. Admittedly I did have to look up what delirium meant but it feels to me as if the message in the chorus is saying stop fucking with my head. It is pop melody at its finest, catchy and original.
Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore – Marlon Williams and Aldous Harding
To be honest, I wanted to include both artists in my songwriter’s choice but have opted for a stunning duet that highlights both of their writing and vocal talent. This song has tension and presence with lilting melodies and a tonal range that Marlon Williams and Aldous Harding seamlessly bridge between the highs and lows and maybe this has some association with relationships. The chorus is haunting, there is a sense of loneliness in the melody accentuated by Marlon’s vocal delivery that embodies the lyrical message. The instrumentation of the guitar adds another musical focus of singularity that is only imposed upon with an eerie synth/pad when we hear Aldous singing the verse. The full band of drums and bass joins in on the chorus which provides a musical and lyrical emphasis. I truly enjoy the vocal scatting by both, in a quirky rendition of the verse that sounds like a bridge. The musical synth toy-like elements add to this kookiness. What is so special about this song is the honesty of the lyrics that are synthesised so wondrously with the vocal performances of Marlon and Aldous.
Tahi (Roots mix) – Moana and the Moahunters
I have always loved this waiata for the ways in which it lyrically and musically uplifts Māori culture and te reo Māori. Released in 1993, ‘Tahi’ was co-written by Moana Maniapoto with Hareruia Aperehama and Angus McNaughton. Lyrically this waiata is significant to me as it talks about this migrational journey of our tūpuna and acknowledges their resilience, fortitude and unity. The song asks us to embody these qualities of our tūpuna in the here and now. The story of this journey that Moana and the Moahunters sing of is expressed in ways that go beyond the words, however the lyrics – combined with the emotional sentiment – are a powerful expression of cultural identity and belonging. In the roots version of ‘Tahi’, Aperehama canvasses various linguistic motifs in the tauparapara, recalling Māori ancestral practices of navigation, journeying on oceans, searching out new lands. A call for unity and solidarity. I love the rhythmical composition in ‘Tahi’, a conscious decision by Maniapoto and McNaughton to simultaneously incorporate rhythmic patterns of haka with sounds of taonga puoro, and the unique Māori rhythms that can be heard when kapakaka roopu ‘Te Waka Huia’ use poi, slapping, stomping throughout the underlying rhythmical patterns of ‘Tahi’. Two decades on from the release of ‘Tahi’, contemporary popular waiata continue to express Māori cultural identity and mātauranga Māori.
Outta Time – Ladi6
The queen of hip hop and soul. Always loved Ladi6, her flow, style and attitude. This song is especially cool because it has a distinct message about uplifting wāhine. She has said “it has always been important to encourage women in music” since back in her days with Sheelaroc. Her voice is gritty and soulful and has rhythmical flow that bends and lifts with the music, drawing up against the vocoder-sounding vocals. Ladi6’s melodies are infectious as they move to highs and lows when she hits the lyric “I don’t wanna go back down, way back down”. The music video is all red, grey, and black with a tinge of gold. All the same but different is the message I get!
Dr Maree Sheehan (Ngāti Maniapoto-Waikato, Ngāti Tuwharetoa, Ngāti Tahu-Ngāti Whaoa) arrived on the music scene in 1992, with two singles (‘Dare to Be Different’, ‘Make U My Own’) on the Tangata label. Her most recent album is Chasing the Light, released on her own label in 2013 and distributed by Warners. Since the 1990s music education has been the basis of her career. She began collaborating with Te Ara Poutama – the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Development at Auckland University of Technology – on music programmes, and became an AUT lecturer in 2009. She received her PhD in 2020 for her thesis The sound of identity – Interpreting the multi-dimensionality of wāhine Māori through audio-portraiture.