Whirimako Black is Aotearoa’s undisputed soul diva. With melodies caressed into shape by the language of her ancestors, Whirimako has carved out a musical pathway leading from the mists of Te Urewera to the world.
Joined on stage by multi-instrumentalist Kim Halliday and Mahina Kaui’s taonga pūoro sounds and vocals, The Whirimako Black Trio Arts on Tour New Zealand tour brings Whirimako to Ōtautahi next month.
We spoke to her about what audiences can expect from the show…
Tell us about this new tour?
My last Arts on Tour experience was probably 10 years ago – so it’s great to be back. The show is me and Kim and Mahina – Kim is on guitar and she comes with experience of recording with me on my second album – so we’ve had 20 years of knowing each other. And Mahina I met when I was in a group of full bellied women… so we have decided with the 3 of us that we’re going to make it a good one. It’s going to entertainment, educational and it will be healing as well. People can sit in the space of hearing Māori language being spoken over traditional jazz and blues numbers.
Arts on Tour taking artists into little towns around the country – particularly those towns that don’t get to have big artists- is heartwarming and lovely.
How important has te reo Māori been in your work?
I was blessed to have te reo Māori as my first language. I have taken it upon myself to use my god given gift of song to share and encourage the use of the language.
Is it heartening for you to see te reo being used a lot more in music?
It’s a natural progression I think once you start to use it – te reo becomes your friend. I think you need to start learning it however long it takes and it might take a few years to get there but it is worth it.
What does te reo Māori do you for in your own creativity?
It’s a good question. For me personally, both the language and the use of Taonga Puoro is not a musical filler -no way, no how. I’ll never use it that way. it’s about bringing an indigenous sound into the space, and it’s about bringing the past into the present.
When I sing in te reo Māori, I get so many comments from people – “Oh, I love that standard but when I hear it in te reo Maōri, I love it even more!’ I think the language brings a depth to it. I can mentally and spiritually deliver myself into the time it was made.
So your audiences are going to hear some old standards in the show?
What they’ll hear are jazz standards – some in te reo Māori and some in English – and they’ll also hear my own songs written throughout my career. You never know with me- I can sing in both languages!
Have you spent much time in Ōtautahi during your career?
I’ve been with Salmonella Dub and we collab together -last year we were in the Christchurch Town Hall performing – I’ve also been there with Arts on Tour and recently was there for Matariki. I have some relations who whakapapa to Waitaha, so that’s lovely. I love being down in the South Island because it’s so different to the North Island. Different scenery and different stories. This tour allows me to reconnect again.
Tell us a bit about your collaborations with Salmonella Dub?
Well, fourteen years and three albums later! I love them for including me in the mix – I get to step outside what I normally do. We produce some beautiful music together – we really have a nice exchange together.
I actually see this as a good example of treaty partnership in action. We share food, we talk, we share funny tales, and sad tales, we hold space together. We have a healthy treaty partner, musical collaboration that’s been going on for 14 years.
In terms of this tour – what are you most looking forward to?
I’m most looking forward to growing and supporting each on stage. If we get that right our audience is going to be there with us and share the laughs and tears and tap their feet.
Is it a different vibe having three wāhine playing together on stage?
It is a different feel – it’s women playing these songs that normally blokes play.
I think our music will make all our women proud. I’m after that – making my audience feel proud and safe and comfortable in my space. When we are onstage, we are hosting our audience, and we want the experience to be one of safety and care and to feel through the song of a Polynesian woman.
It’s about encouragement too. We have to keep encouraging each other. We all need each other – audience and singer. And I want this to be something that offers care and support as well as entertainment.
Arts on Tour Presents The Whirimako Black Trio
Thursday 9 November 7.30pm Christchurch
Great Hall, Te Matatiki Toi Ora The Arts Centre, 2 Worcester Boulevard
$26.50, Tickets: www.artscentre.org.nz