Mahinarangi Tocker

MAHINARANGI TOCKER: She was a stalwart of the national awareness campaign about depression.
MAHINARANGI TOCKER: She was a stalwart of the national awareness campaign about depression.

Mahinarangi Tocker, musician and singer: Born Taumarunui 1955; died Takapuna, April 14, 2008, aged 52.
Mahinarangi Tocker was a potent and seminal figure in contemporary New Zealand music-making.

Her deft guitar-playing and her rich alto voice were gifts to audiences and musicians alike.

While some singers adopt presentational mimicry from abroad in order to win popular acclaim, there was nothing of the tweety-pie clone in Tocker.

She was funny and engaging, and her folk-rock-jazz style was captivating as much because she had a winning and appealing confidence on stage.

Tocker admired standards and was not averse to presenting them, but preferred her own work.

She could draw on more than 600 originals from a song-chest notable for its range. Many are pointed. Others are about despair and are evidence of barely- healed hurt; others are politically demanding and yet others exultant.

She wrote from the heart, and few of her works could be classified as companionable snoozers. Her double album, The Mongrel In Me (2005) is a classic of its type and its shift in appreciations is evident compared with her debut album Clothesline Conversation (1985). She recorded six albums in all, among them Mahinarangi, a retrospective of some of her best work. Her 2003 album Hei Ha! was a finalist at the Tui Music Awards. Born in Taumarunui, her mother was of Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Tuwharetoa, Tainui (Ngati Maniapoto) descent, and her father of Hebrew and Celtic ancestry.

Tocker said she had been singing folk songs since she was enrolled at the town's St Patrick's Primary School, and began writing as a youngster. She would draw on her ancestral influences throughout her musical life.

She trained as a nurse before travelling abroad for two years. Her musical career began in earnest on her return home.

Personal hurdles she had been unable to pass came to light when she was 42 and was diagnosed with depression. She said the diagnosis helped her make sense of her life to that point.

She put the healing process to work, and has been a stalwart of the national awareness campaign about depression, most notably the Like Minds Like Mine television campaign to destigmatise mental illness.

She gave lectures around New Zealand about the use of music and creativity to boost learning and self-esteem, and was an adult literacy tutor, writer and poet.

She was a prominent and revered figure in the gay community.

She was named Queer Musician of the Year in 2001, and made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in January this year for services to music.

She starred in A Short Life, an award-winning musical influenced by Indian movies, with music by New Zealand composer David Downes.

The Michael Heath movie tells the story of a mother coming to terms with the impending death of her young son.

She performed in Australia, Canada and Belgium as well as throughout New Zealand.

Mahinarangi Tocker died at North Shore Hospital, Takapuna, following an asthma attack. She is survived by her daughter and partner.

Sources: Dominion Post library, agencies.

The Dominion Post