On their recent tour to Whangārei, we caught up with The Modern Māori Quartet. These guys were chilled as, relaxed and happy to share their kōrero with us.
Here’s a little kōrero we had with them, including some really insightful and crack up comments!
What are you looking forward to at next year’s Ngāpuhi Festival?
FRANCIS KORA – It’s nice to come up north, (he turns and asks the group) when was our first time up here? Last time we were here was with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. It’s always nice to come up north, we have been as far as Kerikeri a couple of times. Yeah, it’s always warmer, it’s nice to come up to the mighty north, people are pretty hearty up here.
MATU NGAROPO – A few of us have connections to Te Taitokerau, so that’s an awesome thing, taking the music home to whanau who support from afar, and who don’t often get to come out and see us, just connecting with the people. Yeah our music is all about aroha and sharing and connecting with audiences all over the place so the more we can do that the better.
JAMES TITO – Following on from that, I have just started getting into my Ngapuhi side so any chance to connect with Tito’s up here from Titoki, just outside of Whangarei is always a good opportunity.
So we hear that there are Ngāpuhi amongst you! What whānau and hapū are you from and are you excited about coming home to perform? Where are the rest of the roopu from?
MATU NGAROPO – We come from all over the motu! My father is from Hokianga, from Pangaru so that is my connection with Te Rarawa and a whole lot of different hapu under Te Rarawa, but from Pangaru, Waihau, our marae is Waimirirangi.
JAMES TITO – It’s funny because we have been part of other iwi events before. We have been involved with Kaitahu before as part of their Pakeke Balls and other events that they have, Tuwharetoa, (he asks the group) where else, (they all respond) ah, Tainui a number of times, and this is the first time in an official capacity under the Ngapuhi banner so that’s pretty special for us. It’s going to be choice as!
What kai will you be hanging out for backstage at Ngapuhi Festival?
MATARIKI WHATARAU – Wait there is kai back there?
MAAKA POHATU – Oh if there is a yummy boil up back there that would be awesome!
FRANCIS KORA – Just straight seafood, leaving with the gout is the plan.
MATU NGAROPO – Definitely the kaimoana, the kina, the paua, the horse mussels and hopefully some of those snapper from the harbour, um, a few flounder wouldn’t go astray, some crayfish, mussel fritters, oh and the bread makers up here are pretty good so some paraoa takakau would be awesome.
MAAKA POHATU –Just all the kai (laughs).
So you fullas are actors, storytellers, all round funny guys as well as musicians, you’ve got the whole package going on. Which actors/comedians/musicians do you feel have influenced your performance the most?
FRANCIS KORA – Billy T, Prince Tui Teka, they are my favourite of the musicians/comedian/performers.
JAMES TITO – Um, Jim Carey (group laughs), cause I mean, my dad was around doing the show band sort of humour and so I guess I sort of got fed that humour through him, it was that old school style, but myself growing up, I watched a lot of American comedy, like Eddie Murphy. I think there is the fusion in my style. Ace Ventura the Pet Detective that was a crack up.
MAAKA POHATU – I’m the same Billy T, Price Tui Teka and all that. Def Jam comedy quite a lot, guys like Bernie Mack and Dave Chappelle also Kevin Heart, they were great. These days I’m really into dry puns. Adlib humour guys like Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi paving the way for ad-libbers, there are heaps of great comedians.
MATU NGAROPO – I think another one is Sir Howard Morrison. I am a real stickler for that traditional kind of charm.
What is your favourite thing about hanging out and performing in our beautiful Te Taitokerau…is it the kai, the sights and activities, the beautiful wahine or something else?
FRANCIS KORA – I don’t think we have had enough time, that longest time we’ve had was when we were in the orchestra. We are actually shooting back after this show tonight, we don’t get a lot of time in a lot of places that we go.
MATARIKI WHATARAU – The place we have least performed is north of Whangarei over the past five years. It is more like, we are just super excited to come here right, and do it more, keep coming up to the north. The boys are saying the weather is good, the kaimoana is good and they reckon that the women are ataahua (smiles).
We heard that your first album That’s Us! was inspired by your whānau garage parties. What are your favourite garage party memories?
MAAKA POHATU – (laughs loudly) Too many!
FRANCIS KORA – Harmony battles, especially when it comes to like, Whakaaria Mai at the end of a few beverages. Trying to outshine everyone and out volume one another.
MAAKA POHATU – I am a big fan of this in general, how Maori aunties and uncles trill when they get their sing on (eeoo vibrato voice sound effect)! It’s real ballady and its real soulful…but no specific party memories really, there has been so many, always that big feeling. And you know all the different shades of the party that start really lovely and then maybe a fight and then people make up, and have a feed and crash out. It’s the drama and the pathos, the humour, the love and the kahu and the children always running around.
MATU NGAROPO – My biggest memory, everyone is partying and the kids are off making mischief. Like, I loved that, I loved running around with all the kids I grew up with, like cousins, while all the parents are socialising, kai and drinks aside, it was actually the sense of whanaungatanga and the sense of being together that was the main positive feeling that I remember about those gatherings.
MAAKA POHATU – Yeah and they are a bit more liberal about your bedtime, like everyone knows they are supposed to be in bed but time drags on and then the parents get a bit like (loud voice) ‘hey, go to bed’, and then as time goes on they get a bit softer, yeah.
Did you ever imagine when you were jamming at your whānau gatherings while you were growing up that you would have this amazing journey that you are on now?
FRANCIS KORA – (Pause) Yep, as a kid growing up being surrounded by whanau and music and all that buzz it was always my dream to play music.
MAAKA POHATU – I started learning guitar when I was 13, but it wasn’t really out of self-interest, it was because the uncles put me in the hot seat and made me play all the chords. Back then it was Tony Orlando and all those tunes, you know knock three times and 10 guitars, it was kind of easy once you learned all of the base root notes of G D and C. That kind of honed my ear to how the chord changes would go and because they would be getting more and more happy they would just yell the chords out to me. But yeah you kind of got stuck with it and then sucked up all the rest of the skills. Yeah, I grew up around them, I loved being around them, but I was actually really shy, so I didn’t think that music or performance would be my vocation until way later.
Who is your favourite superhero?
MAAKA POHATU – The Black Panther (T’Challa)
FRANCIS KORA –Silver Surfer
JAMES TITO – Batman
MATARIKI WHATARAU – Maui
MATU NGAROPO – same, (laughs)
What is your favourite haka?
JAMES TITO – Haka Tuwhare
FRANCIS KORA –Ko te puru
MATU NGAROPO – Puru’s pretty good
MATARIKI WHATARAU – Poropeihana
MAAKA POHATU – I like the subject matter in Poropeihana
If you could go back in time and meet someone, who would it be?
JAMES TITO – Malcolm X
MATU NGAROPO – I would probably like to go back and meet some of the Tipuna we talk about a lot, like Paikea or Tuhoe Potiki or Toi Kairakau or Kupe, like, yeah man that would be just mind blowing!
MAAKA POHATU – Apirana Ngata
What would tell those people who are looking forward to seeing you at Ngāpuhi Festival next year?
FRANCIS KORA –Our whole kaupapa and our plan is to try and take our music to smaller centres…it’s nice to go to the heartland of New Zealand to take our music. But I truly believe that our sound and the stories that we have to tell, really, they are just truthful and they connect with the heartland of New Zealand and that’s been our kaupapa behind making the songs, we tell a lot of truthful stories, all individually between the boys, our crew, um, a lot of love stories, a lot of heartache, a lot of joy, covers all aspects, pretty much just like a garage party would, so many different layers of what this kaupapa is about, it’s really powerful when you think about trying to give it to the people in smaller places, it’s quite special to do.
MAAKA POHATU – I like the different connotations behind the phrase,” that’s us”. Not only are those personal stories from us, but in the Maori sense like ‘That’s Us’.
Editor note: These guys are going to be awesome at Festival next year! We’ll see you in Whangārei on Saturday 27 January!