WAI INTERVIEWED (2000): One hundred percent te reo to the future

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WAI INTERVIEWED (2000): One hundred percent te reo to the future

Maaka McGregor has had a good day. In Auckland for a week from his home in Titahi Bay and talking up the Wai 100% album he has recorded with his partner Wai (aka Mina) Ripia, he's just come from Mai FM.

His pitch met with a positive, if unpublishably enthusiastic, response from programme director Manu Taylor. A good day.

McGregor is under no illusions how difficult it will be to get tracks off Wai 100% playlisted. The album is all in the Maori language (te reo) and even Mai FM - whose local content and te reo commitment have sometimes been questioned - was never going to simply fall into line.

But with a little editing, says Taylor, the track Te Tokomauri Manawa will certainly get airplay. It's possible Mai FM - or indeed any contemporary music station - would find something on this album of te reo, block rockin' beats, hip-hop textures, wairua-soul and chant-based melodies.wai

McGregor and Ripia have carved an album long on tradition and diversity. There's even an aerobics track which McGregor says they have sampled and extended to a half-hour version.

"There are a lot of marae aerobic programmes now so we've got some music using poi rhythms, at 156 bpm, and with Maori lyrics."

What pulls Wai 100% into a cohesive whole despite its market-friendly diversity, are te reo and the use of amplified poi beats, a technique pioneered by Dalvanius on the Poi E album and occasionally explored by Moana and the Moa Hunters.

"For us, that's where our sounds come from, what makes us unique is our language and our sounds," says McGregor.

"Many of the [songs] we as Maori produce are monotonal and away from western song structure. But if we include sounds of poi and breaths and [foot] stamps in a more contemporary form, the ears out there will start going,'That sounds good.'

And Wai 100% certainly sounds good as it brings the collective experience of McGregor and Ripia together. McGregor was a member of the seminal Wellington reggae-rock band Aotearoa while at school ("We got permission to go on tour before School Cert, it was like, 'This is our career!"') and has played with Moana and the Moa Hunters, Dam Native, Upper Hutt Posse, Marie Sheehan, and is currently in Southside of Bombay.

He started as a guitarist and moved to drums and percussion, and for Wai 100% he has played all the instruments (additional keyboards by Iain Gordon) and had it mastered in Sydney's 301 Studio.

He has been with Ripia since meeting her on the road in 1988 when she was with Moana and Moa Hunters. "Her dad passed away two years ago and she went through a lot of emotions. She wrote the songs for Wai 100% from out of that."

Despite its unhappy origins, Wai 100% has a celebratory feel - and McGregor says the response since its launch in Wellington a month ago has been enthusiastic, especially from those overseas who've heard it.

And as much as the album is up to the moment in contemporary production and sound, so too is McGregor and Ripia's company Minaaka Ltd which boasts an elaborate website with links to French sites.

By chance the pair met Frenchman Jo Le Guen, who attempted to row from Wellington to Chile earlier this year. They hit it off, and the filmmaker who was shooting footage of Le Guen for a documentary asked to use some of their music for the soundtrack.

The filmmakers' website builder offered to construct one for them, and now McGregor says they are looking to creating a new one in French, encouraged by news that their aerobic track is getting play in Paris clubs.

McGregor says they are looking at distribution of the album in France and working up a live show involving DJs, poi players and singers.

And McGregor has a clear answer for those who would say their album might be more accessible if it had some lyrics in English.

"Our language is dying and the buck stops with me and with you and with everyone in this country in order for our language to survive. This is our way of contributing to the survival of the language in a contemporary form.

"If we didn't perform in Maori, in 30 years there'd be an even bigger lack of Maori and Maori music out there.

"We should all have been brought up speaking Maori so it's natural progression for us to speak two languages."

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