Story: Māori composers – ngā kaitito waiata

Page 1. Composing Māori music

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Music, in one form or another, is a ubiquitous feature of human life. Where there are people, there is music. And where there is music, there are composers – people who are able to create new music to give voice to their experiences, ideas and emotions. From times before European settlement to the present day, there have been Māori individuals who have composed music – whether traditional forms such as mōteatea (chanted song-poetry) or using introduced music styles and influences.

Traditional Māori composers

These individuals include traditional composers such as Mananui Te Heuheu Tūkino II and Puhiwahine of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Mihi-ki-te-kapua of Ngāi Tūhoe, Ēnoka Te Pakaru of Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki and Te Rangitopeora of Ngāti Toarangatira. Composers of traditional musical forms can be found in every iwi in the country.

Early 20th century

Early-20th-century composers include the great Sir Āpirana Ngata, Fanny Rose Howie, Tuini Ngāwai and Ngoi Pēwhairangi, all of Ngāti Porou. Others include Paraire Henare Tomoana of Ngāti Kahungunu and Kīngi Tāhiwi of Ngāti Raukawa.

Later 20th century

Later composers include Hirini Melbourne of Ngāi Tūhoe and the newer kapa haka (traditional performing arts) composers, such as Ngāpō Wehi (Te Whakatōhea), Tīmoti Kāretu (Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Kahungunu), Sir Kīngi Ihaka (Te Aupōuri) and Kuini Moehau Reedy (Ngāti Porou). In the 2010s there were a large number of kapa haka composers throughout the country, including Rob Ruha (Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Ngāti Porou), Kingi Kiriona (Tainui) and Wetini Mītai-Ngātai (Te Arawa).

These composers create new music in te reo Māori (the Māori language), deeply reflecting Māori history and experiences. Their musical language makes great use of introduced song styles.

Western composition crossover

Dame Gillian Karawe Whitehead was a Māori composer who trained in the European classical music tradition and enjoyed a successful career in this area. After she returned from England and settled in Sydney in 1981, Whitehead began her experiments using taonga puoro (traditional Māori instruments) and the Māori language in her music. In the 2010s she was a senior New Zealand composer who created music in a range of musical styles.

How to cite this page:

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 'Māori composers – ngā kaitito waiata - Composing Māori music', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/maori-composers-nga-kaitito-waiata/page-1 (accessed 16 December 2019)

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, published 22 Oct 2014