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Traditional Māori music, or Te Pūoro Māori is composed or performed by Māori, the native people of New Zealand, and includes a wide variety of folk music styles, often integrated with poetry and dance.
In addition to these traditions and musical heritage, since the 19th-century European colonisation of New Zealand Māori musicians and performers have adopted and interpreted many of the imported Western musical styles. Contemporary rock and roll, soul, reggae and hip hop all feature a variety of notable Māori performers.
Songs (waiata) were sung solo, in unison or at the octave. Types of song included lullabies (oriori), love songs (waitata aroha) and laments (waiata tangi). Traditionally all speeches usually follow with a song and the group of supporters would usually join in. Some of the smaller wind instruments were also sung into, and the sound of the poi (raupo ball swung on the end of a flax cord) provided a rhythmic accompaniment to waiata poi.
Captain Cook reported that the Māori sang a song in "semitones" and others reported that the Māori had no singing/vocal music at all or sang discordantly, but this is incorrect. Many Europeans at that time may not have been able to distinguish, or appreciate as musical the microtones the Māori were singing. A pre-European song could have a range of as little as a minor third but with several more than the four notes of European music within that range. A song would repeat a single melodic line, generally centred on one note, falling away at the end of the last line. It was a bad omen for a song to be interrupted, so singers in groups would cover for each other while individuals took breaths.
An important collection of traditional song lyrics is Ngā Mōteatea by Sir Apirana Ngata but it was Mervyn McLean, in "Traditional Songs of the Maori", who first notated the microtones of a significant number of them.
It was missionary influence that led to the harmonisation of modern Māori music. Through the 19th and 20th centuries the compass of new songs in traditional style gradually increased, so that it is possible to date a song approximately by its range.
Revival of traditional music
As part of a deliberate campaign to revive Māori music and culture in the early 20th century, Apirana Ngata virtually invented the "action song" (waiata-a-ringa) in which stylised body movements, many with standardised meanings, synchronise with the singing. He, Tuini Ngawai and the tourist concert parties of Rotorua developed the familiar performance of today, with sung entrance, poi, haka ("war dance"), stick game, hymn, ancient song and/or action song, and sung exit. The group that performs it is known as a kapa haka, and in the last few decades, competitions within iwi (tribes) and religious denominations regionally and nationally, have raised their performances to a high standard.
In 1964, The Polynesian Festival ( which became the Aotearoa Traditional Māori Performing Arts Festival and is now known as Te Matatini), was founded, though the board did not actually schedule its first concert until 1972, with the express purpose of encouraging the development of Māori music.
While the guitar has become an almost universal instrument to accompany Maori performances today, this only dates from the mid 20th century. Earlier performers used the piano or violin. Some modern artists such as Hinewehi Mohi, Tiki Taane, Maisey Rika and Taisha Tari have revived the use of traditional instruments.
Ngata and Tuini Ngawai composed many songs using European tunes, to encourage Māori pride and, from 1939, to raise morale among Māori at home and at the war. Many, such as "Hoki mai e tama mā" and "E te Hokowhiti-a-Tū" (to the tune of "In the Mood") are still sung today. More recently, other styles originating overseas, including jazz, swing and rock have been incorporated. In the 1980s and 1990s, Hirini Melbourne composed prolifically in an adapted form of traditional style (His Tīhore mai te rangi seldom ranges outside a major third, and Ngā iwi e outside a fourth) and groups like Herbs created a Māori style of reggae.
This is a formal call, ceremonial call - a ceremonial call of welcome to visitors onto a Marae (traditional Maori pa or tribal grounds), or equivalent venue, at the start of a pōwhiri (welcome ceremony). The Karanga is given by women (or kaikaranga) only as the Maori people believe that a woman's voice is a powerful thing because she is the giver of life. Her karanga calls us from the darkness of Te Po (the night) and takes us into Te Ao Marama (the world of light). Her energy unlocks the pulse of life.
The Karanga is also used for the responses from the visiting party/group to the ceremonial call from the tangata whenua (people of the land). It follows a format which includes a series of discussions (such as whaikorero, mihi and whakawhanaungatanga) and addressing and greeting each other and the people they are representing and paying tribute to the dead, especially those who have died recently. The purpose of the occasion is also addressed during this time. Traditionally, this was a time where the tangata whenua could determine whether the visiting party were visiting in peace or for purposes of war. Skilled kaikaranga are able to use eloquent language and metaphor and to encapsulate important information about the group and the purpose of the visit.
Traditional Māori musical instruments
The work of researchers and enthusiasts such as Richard Nunns, Hirini Melbourne and Brian Flintoff have done provided a wealth of knowledge and information around the sounds, history and stories of these instruments, which included various types of flutes, wooden trumpets, percussion instruments and bull-roarers.
- List of folk music genres including the Māori styles: Haka, Oro, Patere, Waiata.
- Kapa haka
- Music of New Zealand
- Lyrics and translations of Maori songs
- MĀORI MUSIC - Musical Instruments - 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
- Research in New Zealand Performing Arts - a free online research journal that discusses Maori music and related performing arts.
- Traditional Maori-music from New-Zealand
- Maori musical instruments