How Poi E put Patea on the map

ROBERT CHARLES/stuff.co.nz

Patricia Ngarewa and Waimarie Cassidy were in the Patea Maori Club at the time Poi E made it to number one on the NZ music charts.


Grant Hurley reckons the $100 he donated to help get the song Poi E recorded was a savvy investment. 

Along with about 20 other businesses, the Patea butcher dipped into his pocket, a decision which helped to create music history in New Zealand.

Since its release in 1984, the song performed by the Patea Maori Club still remains the only Te Reo track to ever reach the number one spot on the country's music charts.

Patea Maori Club members Waimarie Cassidy, left, and Patricia Ngarewa believe Dalvanius Prime would have been proud of ...
Robert Charles/FAIRFAX NZ

Patea Maori Club members Waimarie Cassidy, left, and Patricia Ngarewa believe Dalvanius Prime would have been proud of the group's achievements and the release of a new film about the song he created.

The story behind the song has now been made into a documentary which will screen for the first time in Taranaki at an invite-only event in Hawera on Sunday, after wowing crowds following its world premiere in Auckland on July 14 as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival.

READ MORE:
The story behind Patea Maori Club's biggest hit about to take centre stage
Poi shop opens in Patea, home of Poi E
Poi E director Tearepa Kahi: a magical night

 
Poi E collaborators Ngoi Pewhairangi and Dalvanius Prime, photographed in 1982.
Supplied

Poi E collaborators Ngoi Pewhairangi and Dalvanius Prime, photographed in 1982.

Called Poi E:The Story of Our Song, it uses dramatised events and archival footage to show how the song, originally written by Tokomaru Bay born Ngoi Pewhairangi for a kapa haka competition, was transformed by Patea man Dalvanius Prime who mixed the traditional te reo lyrics with the modern beat of the day.

Prime, a man whose own career spanned 30 years, bought his Motown ambitions and years of experience playing music to overseas audiences back home in the early 1980s and after beginning an association with the Patea Maori Club which lasted until his death in 2002, crafted  the song which would become the group's greatest hit.

The result not only put his home town on the map, but provided it with hope during some of its darkest years, following the devastating closure of the Patea freezing works in 1982 which left the majority of its residents out of work.

Patea butcher Grant Hurley stumped up some cash which helped make the recording of Poi E possible.
Robert Charles/FAIRFAX NZ

Patea butcher Grant Hurley stumped up some cash which helped make the recording of Poi E possible.

Long-time Patea Maori Club members Waimarie Cassidy  and  Patricia Ngarewa say that without the people of Patea, Poi E as it is known today would never have happened.

Ad Feedback

"If it wasn't for the community, the song wouldn't have been done," Ngarewa says.

Cassidy says while the club members donated their own money to get the single recorded, funds still fell short but Prime had faith his community would come through when he turned to them for help.

Writer and director Tearepa Kahi
David White

Writer and director Tearepa Kahi

Hurley says he had only been operating his  Egmont St butchery for about two months when Prime walked into the shop. He says it was pretty hard to say no to Prime, who he remembers as a "really positive guy".

"I thought it was a pretty good cause and it turned out to be pretty good," he says.

Hurley was among the 2200 people who attended the film's premiere, when he got to walk the red carpet for the first time in his life.

"I was really proud to be involved in a small way," he says.

"It was definitely the best $100 I ever spent."

Despite the song reaching number one and the overseas gigs the Patea Maori Club were asked to do in the wake of their success, which included a 1985 Royal Gala Performance in front of Queen Elizabeth, Cassidy says she thought the song would eventually be forgotten. 

Following a resurgence in popularity for Poi E after the release of the hit film Boy in 2010, Ngarewa says the latest "miracle" has been the release of the documentary, which provided a chance to introduce the anthemic tune to a whole new audience.

The film's writer and director Tearepa Kahi says Poi E became part of the soundtrack to his life when he was a 7-year-old boy growing up in Christchurch.

He recalls being physically drawn to the television when he heard the  music video playing  one night and part of his motivation for the film was to give other people the same feeling he had when he first heard the song.

"I was absolutely overcome with joy and pride," he says.

He says the contribution Prime made to New Zealand music and the legacy he left behind for the Patea Maori Club to continue was something which should be celebrated.

"There's nothing like it," he says of Poi E.

"In a way it culturally defines us as New Zealanders."

The song also provided a real life example of how one individual can help a community overcome adversity  and go on to succeed on the world stage, he says.

"It's just astounding. It's a remarkable story and every beat and every step of it is true."

Cassidy, who still gets a kick out of performing the club's most requested song, says while Poi E is enjoyed by all ages, it was written with the youth in mind. 

"It was meant for our young people to get back, to find their identity and to be able to go and learn the reo," she says.

And not only had her association with the club enriched her own life, but it had saved her struggling small town from potential oblivion.

"Poi E really put Patea on the map," Cassidy says.

Ngarewa says she can't imagine what her life would be like without having the song in it.

"It's still alive, it's still awakening people."

She hopes the younger generation would grab hold of the song now and put their own spin on it, just like Prime did more than 30 years ago.

"That's what we want really, for the song to keep going.

"That's our dream.- that Poi E lives on forever."

Poi E: The Story of Our Song will play in cinemas nationwide from August 4.

 

 - Stuff

Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback