Sonic biculturalism: Kiwi bands take te reo Māori global

August 24, 2017

Sonic biculturalism: Kiwi bands take te reo Māori global

Alien Weaponry (left) and SoccerPractise both feature te reo Māori in their songs. Photos: supplied

Kiwi bands Alien Weaponry and SoccerPractise may belong to opposite ends of the popular-music spectrum, but they operate on a similar ethos.

Both are reinventing their respective genres by incorporating te reo Māori in their music. And now, they’re taking their brands of sonic biculturalism global.

Thrash metal trio Alien Weaponry and genre-bending futurists SoccerPractise will both perform at the Going Global Presents live showcase next month – part of the sixth annual Going Global Music Summit.

They are among 12 hand-picked artists performing at the event where music industry heads from around the world gather to inspire and scout out local talent.

“It feels really good,” says Henry de Jong, drummer of Alien Weaponry.

“We went to Going Global last year and . . . we were like, ‘We wanna be playing here’. This is an awesome thing to be playing it [this year].”

Growing up in kura kaupapa Māori, Henry and his brother Lewis (vocals and guitar), were sometimes called “stealth Māori”.

“Me and Lewis at first glance don't look Māori at all. We look like European Pākehā but we do have Māori whakapapa.”

There is nothing stealthy, however, about their sound.

What seems like an odd coupling on the surface, their trademark “te reo metal” sound was very much a natural fusion for the band.

“Pretty much, if you look at haka and then you look at thrash metal, they’re practically the same except one is Māori and acoustic. The same power and aggression is all there.”

The de Jong brothers, along with Ethan Trembath (bass guitar), who are all still teenagers, aren’t afraid to get political either.

Their music has touched on subjects like the Battle of Gate Pā (“Rū Ana te Whenua”) and the injustices of the country’s colonial past (“Raupatu”). When paired with the energy and aggression of thrash metal, it becomes incisive political commentary.

“If you're playing metal and you're not writing about political subjects something is wrong. This genre goes so well with it.

“And if you look at all the great metal songs out there, so many of them are political and they have such a strong message, so I think it's only fitting.”

For Auckland foursome SoccerPractise, it’s more about bringing te reo Māori into the present.

“I wanna normalise te reo Māori just like it used to be,” says vocalist Geneva Alexander-Marsters (Ngāti Kahungungu).

Alexander-Marsters says she is proud to be taking te reo Māori to Going Global Presents.

“Obviously to be asked means people are invested in you already and that you can represent New Zealand music especially from a bicultural perspective, which would be great on the global scale.

“I really hold my te reo very close to me. But now that I live in te ao Pākehā, I don't get to speak it as much, so it's my way of engaging with it and also sharing it with other people.”

SoccerPractise sound like no one else, blending elements of electronica, indie rock and trip-hop with Māori-influenced melodies.

Their music is also complemented with multimedia and visual arts by visual musician Kim Newall. Leo Horgan (guitar) and Thom Burton (keyboards and programming) make up the eclectic quartet.

On songs like “Amene” and “Haere Mai e Tama”, they mix waiata Māori with their distinct electro futurism, repackaging te reo for the digital age.

“If we had a time machine and we spoke te reo like the one that we know now to our ancestors, they wouldn't necessarily understand what we're saying because so much has been lost.

“So it's about conserving what we have but also reinventing within our own modern context.

“It's the only way that I can approach it because after all those years that the language has been lost, it's the only way that it can survive, just to be reinvented but respectfully reinvented.”

When asked about the band’s ambitions, Alexander-Marsters says she always replies with two words: “World domination.”

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