Budding star builds on TV show fan base

Mihirangi rehearses with Hamilton drummer Waka Peri, who will join her on the Waikato leg of her tour.
Mihirangi rehearses with Hamilton drummer Waka Peri, who will join her on the Waikato leg of her tour.

Waikato born and raised, Mihirangi is relishing the chance to return to her musical roots, Siena Yates finds. 

It's been said before, but all cliches aside, Mihirangi is one of a kind.

From humble beginnings growing up on a marae in Waikato, to a talent show stage and the most distant reaches of the earth and back again, she is proud to be building up her fan base in New Zealand, now that she is home.

Disarmingly down to earth, she spends her rehearsal downtime joking and falling over with laugher, but when she kicks the loop pedal into action and gets behind the microphone, she is transformed.

The 39-year-old creates a full band sound with powerful vocals, a range of instruments, beat boxing and a loop pedal and has been dubbed Australasia's "Queen of Loops", having successfully broken into Australia's music industry and touring worldwide.

Now, having been a favourite on New Zealand's Got Talent, she is releasing a new album and touring the country, hoping to build the home fan base she has never had. "I've done five world tours, but I still don't really have a fan base here [in New Zealand], but hopefully that's changed now," she says.

Going by the packed venues she has already played at since starting the tour in December, it looks as though things have changed.

Mihirangi's success story starts in her childhood, growing up on Rereahu Marae, in Benneydale, with professional musicians for parents. She was "born with music in the blood".

Her musical journey started with doing kapahaka as a child, an experience which has been a huge influence on her music. "It was a very privileged life.

"My music is all about connecting and listening to our environment and indigenous beliefs and spirituality and I think [growing up there] is where my passion in those things comes from."

At 16, not long after the death of her father, she moved to Australia. By then, she had developed a love of song writing, finding it "really quite healing".

From there, she went on to study music full time in Melbourne before giving professional music a try.

"I originally tried being a bit of a pop princess," she laughs, "but it didn't work for me. It wasn't really who I was. It wasn't the world I grew up in. I was more into conscious roots music instead of pop and rock and all of that."

Doing kapahaka, having a drummer for a father, studying music and singing in bands and an a capella group all gave her the tools she needed to be able to pick up a loop pedal and, only about a month later, take it all on tour.

"I sent my music to a festival in Canada and got in, just like that.

"The great thing about festivals is that once you get into one, they like to share artists between festivals so it was all on from there."

Along with vocals and beat boxing, Mihirangi is also well versed in and adds her own percussion, drum loops, keyboard, guitar and taonga puoro (traditional Maori instruments) to her songs.

Singing in both English and te reo, using hand-carved taonga puoro, her trademark ta moko and her integration of tikanga Maori into her stage presence have set her apart.

"I mean, for example, I always do a karanga, but I always ask permission from local indigenous people before I do things like that, because I don't want to impose my culture on other people.

"It's opened up a lot of doors for me to get to know other cultures from all over the world.

"I never understood how just asking and showing that respect could actually help me journey in that way."

It has also caught the attention of fellow musicians. She has rubbed shoulders with everyone from our own ‘Big Dane' Moeke to rock legend Alice Cooper, and even caught the attention of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers frontman.

In 2007, she played at the Sea Shepherd 30th-anniversary benefit concert in front of some of Hollywood's biggest celebrities and alongside some of the biggest names in music.

"After I got off stage, Anthony Kiedis (Red Hot Chilli Peppers vocalist) came and found me and sat with me for a about half an hour asking me all about Maori culture.

"[It was] because of my ta moko and because of my music, and the karanga. It was fantastic. I was so impressed that he wanted to actually educate himself and learn about it."

But perhaps the better story is how she got involved with the concert in the first place.

Having long been an environmental activist involved with groups like Greenpeace, she was also a crew member on the Sea Shepherd, travelling to the Antarctic for the cause.

"I went to the Antarctic to save the whales. I got to see whales, just from horizon to horizon. It was incredible. That was when I really felt like I was doing the right thing," she says.

The music video for for her song No War was shot in Antarctica, and she has also performed in the Arctic, where she said "playing at midnight in broad daylight - it makes you a bit kooky!"

Now she finds herself in Hamilton, rehearsing in the home of friend and professional drummer 37-year-old Hamilton man Waka Peri, who will join her at least on this leg of her national tour.

The pair are syncing effortlessly in rehearsal and in personality and will no doubt provide a killer set, with homegrown, "conscious" roots music for the soul.

Mihirangi will play at Gravity Bar in Hamilton tomorrow night, accompanied by Waka Peri at 8pm. Door sales $20, pre-sales $15, available at eventfinda.co.nz.

Waikato Times