Story: Waiata hōu – contemporary Māori songs

Page 5. The modern Māori waiata

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Māori-language broadcasting

The advent of Māori-language broadcasting on both radio and television and a new generation educated in the Māori tongue have helped to foster the continued growth of songs in Māori. Many of these reflect the modern Māori challenges of urban identity and the revitalisation of language and culture.

Waiata awards

The Waiata Māori Music Awards were instigated in 2008 to acknowledge Māori composers. The categories include best Māori traditional album (te reo Māori), best Māori urban rap/hip hop/R&B album, best Māori pop album, best Māori male solo artist, best Māori female solo artist, best Māori song and best Māori songwriter.

Contemporary popular music and te reo

Contemporary songs illustrate the heavy black American influence on current generations, who draw on rap, R&B or hip hop styles, as well as reggae. Upper Hutt Posse was a reggae-influenced hip hop group at the forefront of New Zealand’s rap scene. Songs such as ‘E tū’ spoke of racial inequalities, but were mostly in English. The band’s fourth album, Te reo mixes, was a remix of earlier favourites featuring only Māori-language lyrics, a reflection of the group’s own acquisition of the Māori language. Aaria, another hip hop group, were positive young Māori-speaking role models and had a hit with ‘Kei a wai te kupu’.

Maisey Rika

Maisey Rika enjoyed early success with her album E hine, a collection of classic Māori songs. She went on to compose songs in te reo Māori (the Māori language), such as ‘Tangaroa whakamautai’, a journey into Māori legend and the ocean. The song was included in her third studio album, Whitiora, which was completely in te reo Māori. Rika became a regular finalist and sometimes a winner at the Waiata Māori Music Awards and in the Māori section of the New Zealand Music Awards.

Ruia Aperahama

Another well-known Māori-language singer and songwriter was Ruia Aperahama. His Bob Marley tribute album in te reo Māori, Waiata of Bob Marley, demonstrates the fondness of many Māori for reggae.

Survival of traditional songs

Despite the new styles of music, many traditional chants have survived into the 21st century, partly due to the efforts of Āpirana Ngata, who began collecting and annotating these songs in the 1920s. He was assisted by translator Pei Te Hurinui Jones and later Hirini Moko Mead. Their work became the classic four-volume Nga moteatea. The University of Auckland’s sound archives include some 1,300 items of traditional Māori chant collected by Mervyn McLean. The poetry and literary artistry within these arrangements have influenced many modern Māori compositions.

How to cite this page:

Piri Sciascia and Paul Meredith, 'Waiata hōu – contemporary Māori songs - The modern Māori waiata', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 1 December 2023)

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