As the students of a kura direct their own “teenage sound”, they both cultivate their talent and find themselves.
Led by musician and mentor Taipari Waaka, they attend a weekly workshop, named Nga Kete Aronui, where they have the opportunity to write, produce and release original music.
Tai Wānanga Tu Toa is a special school in Aokautere, near Palmerston North, focused on high performance in academics, athletics and ao Māori tea.
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The music workshops started in 2016. Grade 13 student Jem Henare was encouraged to join after Waaka heard her singing while walking around the Kura (the school).
“I was scared and nervous, but Taipari lifted me up and made me confident.” she says.
Jem has discovered a passion for songwriting and would like to continue writing and producing music when she leaves kura at the end of the year.
“It’s my place of happiness, it helps me express myself when I can’t always find a way to tell people how I feel. It’s like letting go when I write, it’s liberating.
The usual target is to produce one album per year, but due to the Covid-19 restriction, the latest release, Challenge the new dawn, was a two year journey.
Waaka said the title is about embracing change, a theme that encompasses the teen experience while embracing their Kaupapa Maorior Maori way.
“Maori were travellers,” Waaka said. “We come from a whakapapa where our people embraced the change, because we had to.
Waaka presents a basic track, then rangatahi collaborates to write the lyrics, sing and produce the final composition.
He described the genre of the album as ”teenage sound”.
“It sounds weird to say, but what they’re talking about isn’t necessarily a perspective that I understand.
“They have a song called Do not rusha lot of this is common sense to me, but to them they are still figuring it out.
“Their point of view is their style. They have a particular way of seeing things. They have a curiosity for their atmosphere.
Waaka said that at a similar age, getting into music was an important way to express herself.
“That’s what I encourage them to do. I try not to restrict them, even with the language they use, I tell them “let it out”, whatever you feel, let it out. I’m just there to make sure it’s digestible for the audience.
The song Rise up is about freedom of choice as to who they are and how they express themselves.
“It’s something I didn’t encourage, it just came to them.
“These are their ideas. I step back and let them do whatever they can on their own. They’re like a fast-moving car, and I’m just there to guide them.
Tainui Lind, a grade 11 student, has been participating in the workshops since he started at Tai Wananga Tu Toa in grade 9.
A talented singer, Lind said focusing on music kept him out of potential trouble, and having Waaka as a mentor was like having a “second father” to guide him through life.
“He’s there for us, not just for the music, but he’s like my therapist. He’s always a text away from us.
The song One more moment was written as a tribute to the loved ones they lost. Another track, let mewas wanting to take away someone’s pain.
“Everyone is hurting, and there isn’t always someone there to help,” Tainui said.
“That’s what this song is about.”
A few singles from Challenge the new dawn have already been released on digital platforms and the full album will be released on May 1st.
Waaka is looking for funding to help them produce a paper album and opportunities for the band to perform live.
Further information can be found at their Facebook page.