Singer-songwriter Jen Cloher reclaims her Māoritanga

Well-known Australian-based singer-songwriter, Jen Cloher (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu), last week released her fifth album, I am the river, the river is me, an exploration and reclamation of Māoritanga, and a celebration of seeing herself as 'queer' and Māori - takatāpui.

Māori female musician, Theia (Waikato-Tainui, Ngaati Tiipaa) collaborated with Jen Cloher on her fifth album with the waiata, Toka Tū Moana.

“I mean, it's a beautiful whakataukī (proverb) that comes from ‘Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au’. It sums up where we find ourselves in the world right now. And I love that our people have that beautiful connection that we're not separate from that we're part of,”  Cloher says.

Although based in Melbourne, Cloher says she still has access to her Māoritanga.

“I didn't grow up around my language and my culture. So it's a journey of reconnection. But there are wonderful ways that we're able to do that in Naarm (Melbourne) through learning Te Reo, joining kapa haka, mau rākau (Māori weaponry), and all sorts of things.”

“But I also knew I wanted to have that connection back home, with Maori here to be in consultation and collaboration with people like Theia who helped me with a lot of the reo across the album, and we also wrote a little waiata together.”

Breaking barriers

Theia says she met Cloher over Zoom, they got to know each other, and she appreciated Jen’s passion and longing to reconnect to her language.

“I love Jen's passion and that's what made me feel really excited to be able to come on board and be able to convey what I felt like Jen wanted to say, but also adding in our stunning whakataukī and kupu whakarite or metaphorical way of composing that can kind of really bring it to life from Jen's experiences,” Theia says.

Cloher says the new waiata, Toka Tū Moana, was originally written in English and had the words, "Kia mau koe ki ngā kupu a o tātou tupuna, holdfast to the words of our ancestors, and I brought it to Theia."

“it also really taught me something that you can't actually do sort of like a straight translation from one language to the next because you're coming through the lens of another language.”

With the support of Theia, Cloher has been able to break down barriers that many people may go through learning Te Reo for the first time.

“I learned so much working with Theia … it was such a beautiful experience for me to be able to move through that barrier of fear that I think a lot of Maori who are learning the reo for the first time have and to do that through something that is my passion, through writing and performing and singing.”

“It's been a big part of that journey for me to actually say, I'm gonna release a waiata Māori. And it was great having Theia there because she was staunch.”