IA know the importance of acknowledging one’s heritage in music; they’re also keenly aware of the additional power of bringing it to listeners in a modern way.
The soulful Māori music collective released their debut EP, The Art Of, last Friday, a stunning series of songs that powerfully utilise traditional instruments, taonga pūoro, with a modern twist.
The Art Of is music for the soul, combining ancient sounds, poetic songwriting, and jazzy grooves into one genuinely unique package; there’s an inscrutable energy that transfers between the ancestral sounds and modern rhythm.
For lead vocalist Reti Hedley, the band’s EP carries a vital message: “To know that our music which has never really been seen before is resonating with people in Aotearoa is a huge highlight. I hope it starts them on some kind of te ao Māori journey.”
Each waiata on The Art Of is inspired by one of the following Toi Māori artforms; Whakairo, Tā moko, Raranga, Kapa Haka, Tāonga Pūoro and Mau Rākau. To ensure their songwriting process was as pure as possible, IA collaborated closely with an expert from each of the above fields to provide proper guidance and inspiration.
To celebrate the release of their authentic and ambitious EP, Rolling Stone AU/NZ asked IA to break down each song in more detail, which you can read below.
IA’s The Art Of is out now.
The Art Of Track by Track
“Whakamireirei (the art of mau rākau)”
A warm intro to the EP about the art of mau rākau, the traditional Māori martial art. We used the sound of scraping toka (rock instruments) and also added a native twist on your typical brass section, including a pūkāea (wooden trumpet) and two different pūtātara (Conch). These instruments were traditionally used during times of war, connecting the otherwise soothing music to the god of war Tūmatauenga. The song dives into the journey that mau rākau practitioners undertake as they learn and develop their martial art skills.
“Ruia Taitea (the art of carving)”
Ruia Taietia is a striped back waiata inspired by the art of carving. We used a ponga ihu (gourd nose flute) and a drum pattern sample which is the sound of a tree falling. We incorporated metaphors used in carving that describe a carver’s ability to bring out pieces they are creating within rakau/wood. As people, we all have a beauty, a mauri, a mana inside of us that sometimes isn’t always seen by others and even ourselves. It’s up to us to strip away the bark so that we can see our own worth.
“Poi Manu (the art of poi)”
A collaboration with kapa haka composer and choreographer Te Ingo Ngaia. Written during an afternoon wananga (learning) session at home, the track’s rhythm is anchored by the driving sound of poi in action. Funnily enough, the original demo utilised a child’s stuffed bunny as we had no poi on hand. The message carried in this waiata is one of determination, and the belief that Māori performing arts is a vehicle to the uprise of the Māori people.
“Ta Moko (the art of ta moko)”
An emotive ballad enhanced by the soothing sounds of a kōauau (bone flute). This waiata speaks to the disenfranchised history of the Māori people. It explores how Māori and non-Māori alike find their identity through the ancient patterns of tā moko. It celebrates the reclamation of Māori culture and a deep connection to one’s ancestors found through the art of ink and tā moko, an artform which was once almost lost.
“Te Taea (the art of taonga pūoro)”
A song acknowledging the beauty of the voices of Hineputehue the guardian of the Hue (gourd) and Hineraukatauri, the goddess of traditional Māori musical instruments. This waiata uses traditional kōauau (bone flute) and ponga ihu (gourd nose flute), following a dreamlike arrangement and also exploring electronic elements and textures.
“Te Aho Tapu (the art of weaving)”
“Te Aho Tapu” is a love song which takes inspiration from raranga, the art of traditional Māori weaving. It is as much a classical Māori love song as it is a modern R&B track and uses the ngūru (wooden Māori flute) in many different ways. The name itself, ‘Te Aho Tapu’, means ‘The Sacred Thread’, the thread of life that weaves korowai, whanau, mātauranga, love and entire generations together.We worked alongside master weaver Whaea Tuahana Clark to create this waiata, who inherited her knowledge of weaving from her mother and grandmother. It is her voice you hear at the beginning of the waiata, and the words that she says are echoed throughout the composition.