Story: Waiata hōu – contemporary Māori songs

In the 20th century Māori waiata were increasingly influenced by European melodies, with some prominent composers borrowing tunes. Many waiata were written and performed during the world wars as fundraisers, to encourage Māori pride or as laments for those lost. Later, the Māori cultural renaissance included a resurgence in Māori-language songs.

Story by Piri Sciascia and Paul Meredith
Main image: Hirini Melbourne (right) performing with Richard Nunns

Story summary

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European melodies influenced Māori songwriters and singers increasingly in the 20th century. In the early 1900s politicians Apirana Ngata and Hōne Heke Ngapua translated popular songs into Māori and published them. Pākehā composer Alfred Hill took a strong interest in Māori music, and wrote several Māori-themed works.

First World War waiata

Apirana Ngata published a booklet of patriotic songs and ballads translated into Māori for the Maori Contingent in the First World War. He organised performing groups to raise funds for Māori soldiers.

Paraire Tomoana also raised funds through his songs and his group, Te Poi o Heretaunga. His song ‘E pari rā’, a waiata for a soldier who died in the war, is still sung today. Many waiata became well-known after they were recorded by Ana Hato and Deane Waretini and played on the radio.


Waiata-ā-ringa (Māori action songs) were composed by Ngata and by Te Puea Hērangi of Waikato in the early 20th century. They became a popular part of Māori performance after the First World War.

Second World War

The Second World War has been described as the golden age of Māori action songs. Tuini Ngāwai of Ngāti Porou wrote many waiata to encourage Māori pride, especially during the war. She often borrowed European melodies.

Later 20th century

In the 1950s and 1960s action songs were made popular by Māori showbands and by other performers such as the Howard Morrison Quartet. During the Māori cultural renaissance, new clubs and culture groups were set up, and original songwriting was encouraged. Songwriters and singers such as Prince Tui Teka, Moana Maniapoto and Dalvanius Prime developed a Māori-influenced style, and used the Māori language. Ngoi Pēwhairangi wrote the hit songs ‘E ipo’ and ‘Poi e’.


Early composers and performers often used the piano and violin. The guitar became dominant in the mid-20th century, and in the later 20th century taonga puoro (traditional Māori instruments) were revived.

The 2000s

Māori-language broadcasting and education has helped foster the growth of songs in the Māori language, often drawing on black American musical styles. Contemporary songwriters who produce Māori-language work include Upper Hutt Posse, Maisey Rika and Ruia Aperahama.

How to cite this page:

Piri Sciascia and Paul Meredith, 'Waiata hōu – contemporary Māori songs', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 April 2024)

Story by Piri Sciascia and Paul Meredith, published 22 October 2014