Tiki Taane is known for many things – music, family, activism. He boasts a catalogue of genre-crossing hits, including “Always on My Mind”, and works to enrich the lives of rising rangatahi and emerging artists. And now, Tiki Taane’s also a film star – well, sort of.
The singer is taking fans behind the scenes of one of his most prestigious showcases with his award-winning music documentary Tiki Taane in Session With the CSO. 22 cameras were rolling to catch every second of his concert ‘Ōtautahi Proud’, which took place at the Christchurch Town Hall in May 2021.
Taane set out to capture the magic of the night and gather enough footage to give fans a glimpse at the extensive preparation that goes into creating one of his best performances. As he tells Rolling Stone AU/NZ, what he and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (CSO) achieved was beyond what they initially hoped for.
“I think that’s really important if you want to capture something really unique is that you’ve got to include the audience and you’ve got to let them know that they can be part of this too,” he says. “I’m like, ‘If you want to make noise, you make noise because we’re filming tonight.’ We wanted to capture the energy and to capture the rawness.”
Throughout the film, the crowd’s warm cheers and enthusiastic participation shows that Taane won them over. It’s possibly because live performing has become integral to his career – he’s a festival favourite who is a lineup staple at some of Aotearoa’s top festivals.
“I’ve done this so much that the nerves are always [there] beforehand, but as soon as I walk out there, as soon as I kind of clear the space so that I can be the point of their energy, everything just flows so naturally,” Taane says.
“This is a state where you’re completely present, and you’re completely channeling whatever’s coming through you musically and you’re connecting with all the musicians, you connect with the crowd connecting with the music, and that’s such a special place to be in.”
For a long time, Taane held close to his heart the goal of creating a music documentary that gets played in cinemas around the world.
“To achieve the big one that I was going for, which is this doco that you can get played in cinemas around the world, meant that I had to throw everything at it. If it worked, it worked. If it didn’t, that’s ok, we still have something cool that we can put out. I was aiming for where it is now, that was the ultimate goal.”
Viewers of the film may be surprised to learn that Taane and the orchestra only had two rehearsals together before the show.
“Up until that point, it’s all talking,” he says. “It’s quite a lot of pressure involved to get it that far out. The great thing is I’m just surrounded by great musicians, and so it made it so much easier to have been surrounded by these incredible people. It was an amazing process.”
That includes accomplished conductor Tom Rainey, who helped arrange some of the songs including “Whakapuaki”, “Tangaroa”, and the aforementioned classic “Always on My Mind”.
“We just bounced off each other and that was a great process,” Taane recalls. “I really love it when you can sit down and take one of my songs and then strip it right back to the fundamentals and then go ‘Ok, let’s go for it, let’s see what we can do with the orchestral arrangements.'”
“When I look at the sheet of music, even though it’s my song, I’d still go, ‘What the heck is that?’ So for me, it’s a little bit out of my comfort zone, but the cool thing is, they just made it so much easier for me to slot into that space.”
Rainey and Taane were communicating with each other on stage, but there was always the chance that a breakdown could happen.
“I love that kind of element where there’s a little bit of danger involved, because we need some danger and risk involved when you’re doing a live performance. That’s when you can come up with some amazing stuff,” Taane insists.
“You’ve got to be super settled and relaxed if you’re gonna make a loop on the fly. I had the pressure of a 50-piece orchestra waiting for me to do the loop and then they come in over the top, so there’s extra pressure added there. I’m just so stoked I pulled it off.”
Taane is happy at the thought his documentary might help an artist on the rise.
“The main thing for me is that people walk away and go ‘Ok, that’s inspiring,’ especially independent musicians. That’s one of the biggest things I think I’d love for people to take away is that this kind of concert on this scale can be achievable.”
There were at least two people who took something away from the film – his daughter Karcia and son Charlie shared the stage with him to perform “Serendipity”. Karcia helped out with vocals while Charlie ruled the bass, creating a stand-out moment as a family they’ll never forget.
“As a parent, it’s the coolest thing ever, because we did that in 2021 – they were nine and 11. So now, Charlie’s 14 and Karcia is 12 and so they’re getting super cool.
“They were just so into it and so excited, and they worked really hard too – I put them on the payroll as well. I like to treat them like proper musicians. I paid them, gave them the rooms, and treated them so they could see that this is actually a business, and they did so well. I’m unbelievably proud of them – and they got a huge applause, it was so good.”
After pouring so much into his craft and becoming such an integral part of the Kiwi music community, it’s hard not to wonder how Taane remains so motivated in his music career. He says it’s about getting the balance right.
“It’s all about time management. I’ve been really good at managing my time and having four or five major projects in the year while I’m working on another five over the years,” he explains.
“I can’t afford to have creative blocks because there’s so much stuff coming at me. I was never like that in the beginning, I was useless in the beginning. But now that I’m 46, and nearly been doing this for 30 years, I’ve managed to really work out how to do the time management thing.”
With the event taking place in Taane’s hometown, the night also had a touching sentimentality that shines through in the documentary. Taane’s great-great-grandad was in the CSO, as was his aunt, Glenny Grunfielder, as a double bass player who went on to join the Sydney Opera House Orchestra.
“It’s pretty special,” he says simply.
In one of the most moving moments, he sings “Tangaroa”, meaning “God of the Sea”, in tribute to his father, Uekaha Taane Tinorau, who lost his battle with cancer at 73, five months before the concert.
“My dad and I have performed that many times and and I think, for that performance, he was supposed to be on stage with me to do it, but he passed away. I think something very spiritual was happening there knowing that he was in the spirit, and that he was actually going to be next to me on stage performing.
“Perhaps that’s the feeling that was coming through from myself, the conductor and the orchestra, because they knew as well – so we really just were channeling that feeling and going, ‘Let’s do this.'”
Listen to Tiki Taane In Session With CSO here.
Tiki Taane In Session With CSO
Ticket information available via tikidub.com
Thursday, October 5th
Rialto Newmarket, Auckland
Friday, October 6th
Cathay Cinemas, Kerikeri
Saturday, October 24th
Mercury Twin Cinemas, Whitianga