Moana Maniapoto


My mountain greets your mountain, my river greets your river, my tribe greets your tribe.

In the landscape of New Zealand music one genre stands out: music by Maori artists. Traditional music sung in te reo (the Maori language) has found its way onto mainstream radio as more and more indigenous singers find poetry and emotional depth in their own tongue.

One of the most distinctive, articulate and significant Maori voices is Moana Maniapoto who - first with Moana and the Moahunters and latterly as Moana & the Tribe - has taken her often politically conscious music to festivals across the world.

Moana, who paid her way through law school by singing in covers bands, has articulated a Maori perspective of colonisation in memorable songs (such as Treaty) and has effectively incorporated taonga puoro (traditional instruments) into her music which refers to rock, soul, classical and reggae - but always sounds solely like ‘Moana-music’.

Formed in 2002, Moana & the Tribe have played nearly 200 international concerts, from Kanak villages in New Caledonia to sell out concerts in Russia. Moana cites meeting and singing for Nelson Mandela during his visit to N.Z and being made an Art Laureate of N.Z as her two career highlights. In 2004, Moana became the first non-American to win a major U.S.A based songwriting contest with her song Moko, beating over 11,000 compositions to win the Grand Jury Prize of the International Songwriting Competition.

Moana continues to articulate the desires and aspirations of her people while also addressing head-on the wrongs of the past. Moana does this with a rare voice, which can be as seductive as it is assertive. The emotional depth and sad beauty of her songs, as much as their hypnotic melody and groove, confirms Moana’s status as one of New Zealand’s finest artists.

'My own experience as a songwriter and musician is that music can connect people in a very emotional and spiritual way. I’ve received many emails and letters from complete strangers who have said that one of my songs has changed their life; it has healed some hurt, or led to another to moving home to N.Z after too many years away or uplifted them when they have been really down. The people I meet through my music want the same things for their children as I do. We want them to inherit a healthy planet. We want to nurture their spirituality, respect themselves and others, and to be free to achieve their potential. Music and humour bring people together and that’s healing.

There is a famous Maori saying, 'What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, people, people.’ Indigenous peoples and our traditional value systems are more important now than ever. The liberation of indigenous peoples will in turn liberate and heal others who benefit from their colonisation. I'm talking not just about cultural renaissance, but economic and political sovereignty.

I draw strength as a songwriter, a mother and a woman from my place within a large extended family - from knowing my whakapapa (genealogy) and being strong in my Maori identity and aware of my Irish and English roots. I pass this knowledge onto my children so they can, 'walk the talk of our ancestors...'

Every song I write or perform has to resonate with me at an emotional level. Sometimes when we’re singing, we get emotional and then we see people in our audience in tears. To connect with a stranger in that way is almost a spiritual experience and I guess that’s one part of music making that I’m addicted to.

This article appeared in Vol 2 Issue 27 of The Art of Healing


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