National | Indigenous

TEEKS - achieving his dreams while standing up for Māori

Review by reporter Jess Tyson

Over the weekend a huge dream came true for Ngāpuhi, Ngāi Te Rangi and Ngāti Ranginui soul singer TEEKS - his first performance at an arena.

Full disclosure: I’ve been a fan of Te Karehana Gardiner-Toi since way back, after listening to his deep, soulful voice when he performed at my Māori student ball at university in 2013.  As a lover of soul music, I could tell then how unique TEEKS was, so I’m not surprised about how much more of a star he’s become.

Just For Tonight at Spark Arena in Tāmaki Makaurau on Saturday was my first time watching him perform in front of thousands of people and I was intrigued to see how he'd sound live compared to the hours I've spent listening to his albums.

His voice proved flawless and the performance was mesmerising, not only for myself but for thousands in the audience. Before going I expected most of the audience to be made up of wāhine but, instead, it was made up of people of all different ages and ethnicities. Maybe he is successful because his music relates to so many.

Small town Māori boy with big dreams

When the show began, TEEKS surprised us as he appeared as a silhouette figure in a spotlight wearing an outfit only he could pull off - black leather flare pants, a leather vest, leather shoes, and a gold chain dressed by costume designer Te Ura Taripo-Hoskins. Photos from the night show him wearing a belt, made by Ora Pihema, with woven tāniko patterns, carrying his Māoritanga proudly.

The first words he spoke were in te reo Māori in what could have been a karakia or mihi, sending his appreciation and calling for the protection of everyone in the space. It made me proud to see and hear how much TEEKS incorporated te reo and te ao Māori throughout the show.

“It’s such a dream come true, this moment right now. This is my first arena show baby. Thank you for coming out for sharing your love, for sharing your support because it truly means the world to me. I’m just a small town Māori boy with big dreams.”

Photo credit: Tom Grut for Live Nation Aotearoa 

Hailing from Northland, TEEKS grew up entrenched in waiata and kapa haka.

“It always starts out as a dream, right. I think Māori, we’re good at imagination and imagining things… I used to get home from school and I would turn the stereo right up and visualise myself playing in an arena and now here we are,” he said.

“[Tonight] we are going to feel some things, maybe cry, open up some portals to different dimensions. For this next one, we’re going to take you underwater.”

His next waiata was Oil and Water, followed by Remember Me, which really pulled on my heartstrings. The song is a love letter about unrequited love and asking the person you love to never forget about you, something I could relate to and I'm sure many others could too.

In the next waiata, Wash Over Me, footage of the ocean appeared on the circular screen with TEEKS in the centre, as if he were floating in the waves. When he sang If You Were Mine, he opened us up to a space portal with the night sky spread across the stage, made up of five violinists, one cellist, a pianist, two guitarists, a drummer and three incredible backup singers - Bella Kalolo, Majic Paora and Anna Grahame. Their harmonies were divine.

The stage at Just For Tonight. Source: TEEKS Facebook

Opening up on expectations of being a man

Throughout the evening TEEKS shared a lot about himself, which was special because I’ve always considered him to be mysterious, reserved and private.

“When I sing it’s like I’m opening portals. It feels like I’m connecting to my past self and future self,” he said.

He took the time to share some wisdom on masculinity and his thoughts on the social expectations of being a man.

“There are so many ways to be a man. There’s not just one way to be a man. There’s not just one way to be a woman," he said.

“It’s cool to be in touch with your feelings. Feel your shit. Acknowledge it. Let it out. Cry. Laugh. Do whatever the f**k you want to do.”

'What do we want? Land back!'

According to TEEKS “indigenous knowledge is truly the way to save the world to heal the world as long as we give the land back”.

“A lot of it is unlearning and reconnecting, reinstating indigenous knowledge and world view gender roles, gender binary. This just all came from the western world so it’s getting back to our roots. The ability to love yourself and to express yourself, however you want to do that as a human being, loving whoever you want.”

At one point in the show he had the audience chanting "What do we want? Land back! When do we want it? Now!" It was very empowering to be a part of that.

Tikanga Māori was embraced even more in the show when TEEKS and Paora performed a duet in te reo to pay respect to the mana whenua, Ngāti Whātua.

TEEKS giving us TLC Red Light Special vibes with his love songs. Photo credit: Tom Grut for Live Nation Aotearoa 

Love songs set the scene for a perfect marriage proposal

TEEKS' love songs are my favourite. During the show he sang a series of waiata about heartbreak and sadness including Into You, Love is a Game and a cover of I Can't Make You Love Me.

“Have you ever had your heart broken?” he asked, and hundreds in the audience raised their hands.

“There’s something like sad music that help with the healing. Even though it hurts like hell, it helps build your character.”

TEEKS shared with us how much of an impact legend D'Angelo had on him growing up before singing a cover of How Does It Feel.

"When I discovered D’Angelo just out of high school, it blew my mind," TEEKS said.

But what made the night extra special was when a young man named Jayden proposed to his wahine, Kahurangi. The whole audience came alive and people crowded around the couple to celebrate them. TEEKS congratulated Jayden and Kahurangi but admitted he couldn’t see the proposal outside the screen.

“I missed it because I was in the f*****g … you can’t see anything in there,” he said making everyone in the arena crack up with laughter.

The proposal may have even made TEEKS a bit jealous when he kindly said, “Must be nice”, followed by another round of laughter from the audience. But the way TEEKS spoke so openly and comfortably throughout the whole night shows what a kind, down-to-earth and genuine person he is.

If I compare the show to other favourite concerts I've attended, like Beyoncé or Bruno Mars, Just For Tonight didn't have people dancing around for hours on end. But it did something else. It stole our hearts and made us feel comfortable to be whatever we wanted to be.

The natural flow of te reo and tikanga Māori in the show made me feel very proud. I think TEEKS is not only an exceptional singer but also plays a major role in helping empower Māori and letting them know their dreams can also come true.