Māori concert parties
Late in the 19th century a new performance form began to emerge in Māori communities. Led by Āpirana Ngata of Ngāti Porou and later Te Puea Hērangi of Waikato, this was the Māori concert party, a precursor of modern-day kapa haka. Troupes of Māori singers, dancers and other performers travelled to Māori villages to perform introduced melodies and styles, using instruments such as the violin, piano accordion and banjo. An echo of the traditional whare karioi (travelling troupe of performers), the visits aimed to maintain and foster tribal identity and cohesion, and sometimes to raise funds for community projects. The most famous examples were the revitalisation of East Coast marae (led by Ngata) and the establishment of Tūrangawaewae marae, the seat of the Kīngitanga (Māori King movement) in Ngāruawāhia (led by Te Puea).
Born in the mid-1870s, Paraire Tomoana of Ngāti Whatuiāpiti and Ngāti Kahungunu was a pioneer composer of songs in the new ‘action song’ style, which moved away from the small note ranges of traditional waiata and used harmonised tunes, often adapted from European melodies. During the First World War he used his musical abilities to raise funds for soldiers and their families. Some of Tomoana’s compositions remain among the most popular Māori songs; they include the famous love song ‘Pōkarekare ana’, 'Hoea rā te waka nei' and ‘E pari rā’, a waiata maumahara (song of remembrance) for soldiers lost in the First World War. 'E pari rā' was influenced by, and has a similar tune to, the 'Blue eyes waltz'; it was adopted by the Royal New Zealand Navy as its official slow march.
Tuini Ngāwai of Ngāti Porou was born in 1910 at Tokomaru Bay. She composed her first song (now lost) aged 14, and from 1931 onwards wrote more than 200 songs, some of which became classics of the modern Māori song repertoire. Her first surviving song, ‘He nawe kei roto’ (Stirred within), impressed Āpirana Ngata so much that he asked her to perform it at the opening of the meeting house Te Hono-ki-Rarotonga in Tokomaru Bay in 1934.
In 1939 Ngāwai moved to Auckland and composed for a choir which made many radio broadcasts. During the Second World War she returned to Tokomaru Bay and established Te Hokowhitu-a-Tū, a performing group that assisted in recruiting men to the Māori Battalion. The group performed many of Ngāwai’s compositions at training camps and when farewelling troops or welcoming those returning home. During the war Ngāwai composed her best-known songs, including the famous ‘Arohaina mai e te Kīngi nui’ (Care for us, great King).
Tuini Ngāwai’s niece Ngoingoi Pēwhairangi also became known as a composer. A member and leader of Te Hokowhitu-a-Tū concert party, she was groomed by her aunt in performance, composition and leadership. Pēwhairangi’s songs included ‘Kia kaha ngā iwi’, ‘Ka noho au’ and ‘Whakarongo’. Much of her work was composed for specific events, such as the 1983 visit of the prince and princess of Wales, when she organised the official welcome. Her best-known songs are ‘E ipo’, which was recorded by Prince Tui Teka in 1981, and ‘Poi e’, written with Dalvanius Prime, which was a hit for the Pātea Māori Club in 1982. Pēwhairangi was also an important educator who worked unstintingly to promote Māori language and culture.
Hirini Melbourne of Ngāi Tūhoe was an influential composer whose works and creativity flourished from 1980 till his death in 2003. Melbourne first came to be known through the many songs he composed for schools, which are still sung in the 2000s. ‘Pūrea nei’ (Cleansing), ‘Whiti te marama’ (The moon shines), ‘Tihore mai’ (The sky is clear) and many more are popular favourites and sung throughout New Zealand.
Melbourne is also lauded for his leadership – with Richard Nunns – in the revival of traditional Māori musical instruments known as taonga puoro (sound treasures). Their 1994 CD Te ku te whe was a landmark recording, restoring the sounds of these instruments and introducing a new voice in New Zealand music composition. In the 2010s taonga puoro can be heard in film and television, at sports games, on marae and elsewhere.