Modern Māori Quartet tour with debut originals, ready to see the Nans across NZ
The Modern Māori Quartet, a sometimes comedic occasionally serious party band, has had a baby.
The four Māori lads revealed their first original album on Friday, titled That's Us!, and kicked off a nationwide tour immediately.
Not one to understate his efforts, the quartet's new recruit - Francis Kora of roots band Kora - explains how getting their first album out is just as hard as giving birth. "It's just like having a baby! You've got to make the baby, then the baby comes out and you have to look after it and care for it." He's betting this tour will be just as gruelling as caring for a new born.
The band's music is reflective of the old times – an updated throwback to Māori show bands of the 60s' such as the Hi-Marks and The Howard Morrison Quartet. The quartet say this is the music they grew up to.
Yet this is not the music their peers listen to. As the band hits the road in two vans, passing through 14 halls and theatres, they expect to be greeted by "mostly middle aged Pākeha and a lot of aunties and nans".
And that's exactly the audience they were looking for. The band, mostly all now in their late 20s, graduated from the New Zealand Drama School in Wellington, where James Tito explains "you tend to get to know who the Māori and Pacific actors are". There aren't too many, and they weren't keen to live out their careers as "cliches like the best mate, bouncer or criminal".
"So Matariki [Whatarau] said at the time, 'Māori love to sing and Pākeha love to pay Māori to sing'. It was just a perfect business plan, really," Tito says.
And that's how the band came together to release their first album of covers in 2014. It did pretty well, and so they're back with the Modern Māori Quartet's debut original album.
The music – like Shine, a "song for all the kids in the world" written for Kora's daughter Coco – is inoffensive, family friendly stuff. The album also tackles topics like heartbreak with the titles Don't Fall in Love and Come to Me.
Maaka Pohatu describes their music thus: "It's just really positive and slick. There's the humour element to it too, I suppose, but it's really family orientated."
This is the type of show their mates buy tickets to and take their aunties, the band jokes. That wide as possible appeal means the band will play in almost every region in New Zealand. There are shows in wine countries of Marlborough and Napier, as well as the cities and beach communities like Pōrangahau.
"If we want to spread the love or whatever, to do it from Auckland is kind of exclusive and we're not exclusive - we're for everyone," Whatarau says.
But Whatarau adds a caveat. "Yeah, bring your Nan! Just make sure your Nan is ready to get hit on," he jokes. It is, reportedly, an interesting time at these shows.
Sometimes there are kāumatua crying in the stalls, "saying 'oh they just don't make music like this anymore'," the band says. Other times kids will be running up and down the aisles after being dragged along by the aunties, alongside their less enthusiastic uncles. And other times, the band reports, the older crowds in these regional theatres can get a bit crazy.
"Not a lot of those smaller communities get much coming to them," Whatarau says.
So, is it actually family friendly? "Māori family friendly," he says. "You love your kids but you'll tell them to f... up from time to time, it's on edge. You know, the line is a bit further to the left or..."
The band later summarises that quote to say it's a positive show, but it's truthful and somewhat satirical. "Even the suits," they say, are a throwback to the old times but not to be taken seriously.
Hamilton - Sunday 17th September - Playhouse.
Pōrangahau - Wednesday 27th September - Memorial Hall.
Featherston - Thursday 28th September - Anzac Hall.
Ōtaki - Friday 29th September - Memorial Hall.
Napier - Saturday 30th September - Municipal Theatre.
New Plymouth - Friday 6th October - Theatre Royal.
Wellington - Saturday 7th October - Wellington High School, Riley Centre.
Taupō - Sunday 8th October - Great Lakes Centre.
Whangarei - Friday 13th October - Capitaine Bougainville Theatre, Forum North.
Auckland - Saturday 14th October - Crystal Palace.
Whakatāne - Sunday 15th October - Little Theatre.
- The Dominion Post