New Zealand–Music

(While you’re learning about the music of New Zealand you may want to browse through the New Zealand Folksong Website that offers a wonderful collection of Maori folk songs, complete with recordings and lyrics.)

Before Europeans landed in Aotearoa, much Maori vocal music was similar to that found elsewhere in Polynesia–energized chanting, often done without instrumental accompaniment and with the vocalists singing either solo or in unison. Before Western colonial contact, Maori priests were exclusively allowed to play instruments in public because of musical instruments’ power as a form of communication between humans and gods. (Non-priests played instruments, but in private or even in secret.) There were several kinds of flutes such as the bird-bone Kōauau and the flute/horn Pūtōrino, conch shell trumpets like the Putatara and spinning instruments like the whirling, whirring Purerehua. When Missionaries arrived they brought church-based harmonies and Western instruments; as a result, most Maori instruments were “lost” and have only a experienced a revival since the 1980s. (Learn about Maori instruments on the Tamok Studio and Maori Arts Gallery | Watch a video of Maori instruments in play)


New Zealand’s “action song,” now generally accepted as the country’s primary form of cultural dance, didn’t really exist until the early 20th century when a predominant Maori parliamentarian, Sir Apirana Turupa Ngata, helped developed them as a way to celebrate and promote Maori culture. “Kapa haka,” groups that perform action songs, have become popular in New Zealand. Watch YouTube videos of a few Maori action songs and you’ll understand why. 1 | 2 | 3.

New Zealand may celebrate its Maori folk music roots locally, but it’s also incredibly proud of its English-language pop songs that have made international waves. Since the first international hit recorded in New Zealand–“Blue Smoke” by Pixie Williams“–Kiwi musicians have been regular players on the global pop music scene. The ’80s and ’90s were banner decades for New Zealand’s pop musicians, with Kiwi Neil Finn, fronting Crowded House–a band that actually formed in Australia, but no matter–churning out a number of international hits like “Don’t Dream, It’s Over” and “Something So Strong.” The 1995 single “How Bizarre” by OMC sold almost four million records, making it New Zealand’s greatest selling song of all time to that point. With all these hits and no doubt more to come, there must be way more than even’s suggested “31 reasons to love New Zealand music.

In class we’re going to listen to:
— Blam Blam Blam “There is No Depression in New Zealand” The rock band Blam Blam Blam was one of early ’80s New Zealand’s most popular and controversial acts. Their hit, “There is No Depression in New Zealand,” satirized the attitude of polarizing prime minister Rob Muldoon who many believed was glossing over the needs of the population. In the early ’90s the song experienced a substantial revival when a “joke” political party, The McGillicuddy Serious Party, ran adopted it as their national anthem. Blam Blam Blam disbanded in 1984, though they reunited for some concerts in 2003. The McGillicuddy Serious Party disbanded in 1999, though they re-emerge every so often to do battle. (The aliens in this video are McGillicuddies).

More information:
Watch the video for “There is No Depression in New Zealand” on YouTube | The history of “There is No Depression in New Zealand” as it intertwines with the McGillicuddies. | Read the McGillicuddies’ list of policies on Wikipedia. An example: “The diversion of all of NZ aluminium production away from building US military aircraft and missiles to build giant space-mirrors to melt the polar icecaps and destroy all of the foolish greed-worshipping cities of man in one stroke, thereby returning man to the sea, which he should never have left in the first place ” | Watch the McGillicuddies try to invade Wellington in 1986, only to be thwarted by Alf’s Imperial Army. Alf’s army starts the video and the McGillicuddies come on at 2:22. The actual fake battle begins at 4:16

— The Patea Maori Club, “Poi E”
In 1983 a duo composed of linguist Ngoi Pewhairangi and musician Dalvanius Prime wrote “Poi E” as a way to inspire cultural pride among MÄori youth. Prime couldn’t find a record label to release the song so he formed his own label and worked with the MÄori performing group, the Patea Maori Club to sing it. In 1984 a TV news story about
the song introduced the population to it and it became an instant hit among MÄori and non-MÄori alike. It even became popular in the UK, where the Patea Maori Club toured to share the vibrant MÄori culture.

More information:
Watch the video of “Poi E” | NZHistoryNet tells the story of the rise to fame of “Poi E” | Follow Patea MÄori Club on Facebook

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