Interview: Moana and the Tribe

JUICE spoke to one of the many acts that will be gracing the stage of 3-day Rainforest World Music Festival this July. Moana of Moana and the Tribe dished to us about Maori music, New Zealand and her thoughts on pop music.

How has your week been?
Very cold – but family focused as my baby and I are visiting my parents who live in Rotorua, 3 hours out of Auckland.

Nice. So you’re residing in New Zealand now? How are things there?
The news of the last few days have been dominated by an armed siege that has left 1 policeman dead and 2 others seriously injured. That is quite traumatic in a country of our size. We face many challenges here – rising drug culture, violence, poverty, racism – but there are some inspiring people and stories that make NZ a very special country still.

What is Maori music for those who don’t know?
It means different things to different people, but to me, it is music produced by Maori that has a distinct Maori identity to it. For example, it might convey Maori stories, or utilise our beautiful language or incorporate traditional instruments or our indigenous vocal styles. Mine covers all of the above!

Tell us, how did your passion for Maori music start?
It began as a child growing up in a house where my father always had a guitar and ukelele handy, where he was a member of many traditional performance groups and I witnessed him and his 4 brothers sing as part of our tribal rituals. My sister Trina who sings with me was bought up the same way, too. I was schooled at a Catholic boarding school for Maori girls, which is where I learned the art of vocal harmony.

How long have you been in music?
Informally, all my life – professionally, for half of it!

You’ve won so many awards. Which one means the most to you?
Being made an Art Laureate by the NZ Arts Foundation. It was a huge honour, given the calibre of the other Laureates. I still can’t believe it.

Which is your most memorable experience ever as an artist?
Certainly singing in well below sub-zero temperatures in an amphitheater carved out of snow near the Arctic Circle – wearing a padded snow suit, thick boots, sealskin mittens and a fur hat – has GOT to be unforgettable!

Sounds like it. What was it like performing for Nelson Mandela?
Like one of those slow-motion scenes in a romantic movie! He is the outstanding man of these times and all of those in his presence knew we were in the company of a great human.

What do you think of the current pop music chart though?
A lot of it I find very bland, repetitive and uninspiring. Equally, there are some songs big on melody and style that I only wish I could have composed. I prefer to listen to artistes who are off the charts – people who sing in French, Spanish … whose passion and pride in their unique identity is reflected in their music.

You’re 1 half of a documentary team too, how involved were you with it?
My husband is a documentarymaker and he has mentored me into directing. I’ve also produced a couple of small documentaries myself. I find documentarymaking similar to producing an album – it’s all about finding a creative way of telling a good story and pulling a talented team together to achieve a particular vision. It is also an honour to be let into someone’s life, particularly an elder, to document their lives. I love it.

Any good movies you’ve watched lately?
NZ film Rain of the Children, by Vincent Ward. Last week I also watched Defiance and The Band Visit which were both good films too.

We’ll definitely check them out. How’s a typical non-working day for Moana?
Hmmm, as a new mother – I don’t think there is any such thing. But a day of luxury for me would involve sharing a good meal with friends and family – and the ultimate – a massage!

What can we expect from your performance at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2009 in July?
Passion, soul and an insight into being Maori.

Any big plans coming up for Moana and the Tribe?
We are playing in St Marks square in Venice soon, touring Australia, but greatly looking forward to meeting with various tribes and musicians at the Rainforest Festival. It is an honour to be invited to play.

Log on to www.moananz.com to find out more about Moana and the Tribe. Head to www.rainforestmusic-borneo.com to know more about the Rainforest World Music Festival.