Rugby anthem is overture to enduring music legacy

September 2013

When Hinewehi Mohi sang the New Zealand national anthem only in te reo Māori at the 1999 Rugby World Cup, it caused an uproar in New Zealand. Talk back radio and columnists had a field day, a reaction the celebrated vocalist had not in the least expected.

Hinewehi may have been surprised at the feeling from home, but it is a measure of the independence and leadership drive of the woman that it was she who came up with the idea to sing the anthem entirely in Māori.

That drive and love of independence is again evident in ‘Raukatauri –Te Puhi o te Tangi’, Hinewehi Mohi’s new album released at the end of August by Universal Music. It has been recorded to celebrate the artist’s 20 year musical journey - from school concert party to celebrated Māori songstress via the ‘hallowed’ grass of Twickenham.

And Hinewehi’s journey has had many challenges even far more onerous than performing in front of 82,000 rugby fans and millions of TV viewers in a language very few of them understood.

A quiet, courageous and generous soul, Hinewehi has been the driving force behind the establishment of New Zealand’s first independent music therapy centre. She has had a long career in television production and has raised a severely disabled daughter. She herself is a breast cancer survivor.

Hinewehi first performed in public at St Joseph’s Māori Girls’ College in Napier as a member of the ‘concert party’. At Waikato University she was a key member of the kapa haka and had the late Dr Hirini Melbourne as a lecturer.

Dr Melbourne encouraged Hinewehi’s song writing and told her the legend of the goddess of flutes, Raukatauri. It was to be an important step in her musical journey, in more ways than the young student was to expect.

Hinewehi’s music career proceeded with her continued experimentation with composition leading to a first solo recording in 1992. After meeting UK composer Jaz Coleman at the opening of his York Street Recording Studios in Auckland, the two began to explore fusing traditional Māori music with western sounds and rhythms.

She continued to write and perform and work in television until the birth of her daughter Hineraukatauri in 1996. It was a difficult birth, the baby suffered brain damage and was later diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy.

Jaz Coleman told Hinewehi about how music therapy helps people with special needs and suggested it could be something significant for Hineraukatauri. Then, an opportunity brokered by Jaz and Universal Music led to the international release of ‘Oceania’, a first for a contemporary Māori album.

It was during the promotion of the first Oceania that Hinewehi was asked to sing the national anthem at Twickenham in London. Hinewehi’s Māori version of our national song caused a storm of controversy both in NZ and the UK. However, her actions precipitated a new government directive that both the Māori and English versions of our anthem be sung at sports fixtures and other ceremonies.

While in London, Hinewehi and her whanau visited the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre. It was immediately evident to her that music ‘struck a chord’ for Hineraukatauri and that therapy through music created an exciting platform on which to realise self-expression and communication.

On their return to New Zealand, Hinewehi and her husband George resolved to find a way to make music therapy available to Hineraukatauri and other children with disabilities. With the support of friends, the Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre was established in 2004 and now provides services for 200 children and adults with special needs.

Hinewehi has continued to write and record music for various projects, including more recent collaborations with musician Joel Haines. She continues to perform her music at special events around the world.

Her latest album is a celebration of 20 years of Hinewehi’s music making under the guidance of many mentors and is a tribute to Raukatauri – Te Puhi o te Tangi (the personification of music). She says she was particularly keen to do the album to pay tribute to two of her mentors who have since passed away: Drs Hirini Melbourne and Hone Kaa.

“It has been nice to return to York Street to do this album with Peter Scholes (arranger/conductor),” Hinewehi says. “I met Peter through Jaz when working on earlier projects with orchestra.

“My favourite song on the album is ‘Hineraukatauri’. When Jaz first played me the tune on the piano, I immediately felt the emotion of it and wrote the words accordingly.”

It is a measure of the woman’s generosity of both spirit and means that all profits from her new album are being donated to the Raukatauri Music Therapy Trust.

Raukatauri – Te Puhi o te Tangi is available for purchase from the Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre website and all good record stores. Full info here.

Picture of Hinewehi: Courtesy of David White

Music therapy image: Courtesy of Dallas Pickering