Entertainment | Music

Music as a vessel for Maori and Welsh language revitalisation

Two indigenous cultures from opposite sides of the globe have united to work on the revitalisation of their languages via collaborative songwriting.

SongHubs is a songwriters’ residency that brings together established and emerging artists to create commercial music for both domestic and international audiences. Hosted by APRA AMCOS NZ and supported by the British Council New Zealand, the Pacific and the British High Commissions, new bilingual music was created to advance the understanding and usage of both te reo Māori and Cymraeg.

In 2023 APRA held a collaborative SongHubs event with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) songwriters and there are plans for another one later this year where Māori songwriters will travel to Australia to collaborate with ATSI songwriters.

There have been language revitalisation collaborations between Wales and Aotearoa particularly through Sir Tīmoti Kāretu.

So, when the British Council and British High Commission made APRA AMCOS NZ aware of a funding pool which could support a kaupapa for indigenous language revitalisation through music, it made sense to them to lean on the connection with Wales, which had already been established.

Communications and events manager Lydia Jenkin said they would love to hold further Indigenous collaborations and have discussed other possibilities but these are dependent on funding.

Co-curators Kawiti Waetford and Greg Haver shared their experiences of the song camp with Te Ao Māori News.

Waetford lived in Cardiff, Wales for a number of years, studying at the Wales International Academy of Voice. He believes this is why Dame Hinewehi Mohi brought him in as a curator. Mohi is the pītau-whakarewa / Māori membership growth and development Leader for APRA AMCOS NZ , and has just been announced as a new inductee to the NZ music hall of fame.

“It was really a collision of both of my worlds,” Welsh music producer Greg Haver said. Haver lives in New Zealand and is learning Maōri from musician Theia.

He was surprised how moved he was by the songhubs and said the Welsh artists returned home feeling the experience was life-changing and transformative.

Asked about how the different languages worked together, Haver said although the languages sounded different when talking, in song they had a beautiful cadence.

Waetford said, “I rongo i te motuhaketanga o ngā reo e rua, engari i kitea hoki te mahitahi. Ki au nei i māmā i ētahi wā ki te rāranga i nga reo e rua ki te takapou o ngā waiata, i waihangatia i auahatia. Nā reira, i runga i tērā, i tino kitea i te ataahuatanga, i te āhua reka o te mahi tahitanga.

I heard the uniqueness of the two languages but there was also the beauty of working together. To me, it was sometimes so simple to weave two languages together in the songs that we created. So in all of that lay the beauty and the sweetness of working together.

“Music is universal,” Haver said. He has produced music in many different languages, having worked in Latvia, Russia, and the Czech Republic.

In picking Welsh songsters, Haver said it was important for him to have first language Welsh speakers. The artists Haver selected were Carwyn Ellis, Cat Southall and Georgia Williams.

The Welsh artists told Haver the experience made them feel less alone with their struggles. Both groups have shared experiences of colonisation and language suppression, a history of being beaten for speaking the language. Māori and Welsh peoples have both fought to have their voices heard in broadcasting.

Haver recalled the Plaid Cymru MP Gwynfor Evans who fought a successful campaign (including the threat of a hunger strike) to force the Conservative government to fulfill its promise to establish S4C, a Welsh-language television station

Theia incorporates tikanga and history in her lessons, which Haver explained to the Welsh artists before the residency in Aotearoa.

Haver has also worked extensively with Troy Kingi and through his work has gained an understanding on the impact te reo Māori has on tāngata whenua.

Haver said the project was important, as were television and the arts in general to encourage the use of indigenous languages.

“It’s vital for maintaining the languages, it’s vital for the creative sector to expand its use of other languages apart from English just to bring different indigenous languages together and just exchange ideas,” Haver said.

Waetford said, “I absolutely see music as a vessel for music revitalisation in among the pantheon of ēnei waka kawe i tō tātou reo rangatira. These vessels that carry our chiefly languages.

“Ko te pūoro tētahi o ngā matua, mai noa, mai noa tēnei mea te waiata, te pao, te mōteatea, te haka, te karakia, e pupuri ana i te mauri o tō tātou reo hei waka kawe ki ngā whakatupuranga ki te āpōpōtanga o tō tātou iwi Māori.”

Music has always been one of the parents of songs – pao. Mōteatea, haka, karakia, they all hold the essence of our language and its revitalisation for the future of te reo Māori.

Waetford said the tuakana-teina approach was an incredible aspect of SongHubs that paired less established artists such as Mareikura Nathan and Awhimai Fraser with the likes of Rob Ruha, Maisey Rika and Pere Wihongi.

“Te kaupapa katoa ko tōna tūapapa, he tūapapa Māori, he tuapapa tikanga Maori, he tuapapa reo Maori, nā reira mātou i pōwhiritia ngā manuhiri i haere mai i Wēra, i noho i raro i te āhuru mōwai o tō tātou reo, kātahi o tō tātou ahurea Māori ka rua,” he said.

The foundation of the entire programme is Māori, it is tikanga Māori, it is Māori language so, when we welcomed our guests from Wales, we did so under the cover and protection of the Māori language first and foremost, followed by our cultural practices.”

Eight of the songs are yet to be released. One song has been released so far in Wales, which means Māorican be heard on Wales radio. The song Ca’ Dy Ben! is a collaboration between Cat Southall, Awhimai Fraser and Pere Wihongi and you can listen to it here: