This much I know: Moana Maniapoto - musician, writer

By Sarah Daniell

Moana Maniapoto.
Moana Maniapoto.

My definition of success is having a loving relationship with yourself, partner, kids and whanau. Living your passion. Finding out you have made a difference. Finishing a run without collapsing.

My idea of success has changed as a young woman in the music industry, to now. Early on it was about performing a song well or achieving radio airplay. Now it's more about composing a song I'm proud of, performing it live and seeing the response from the audience. I love playing overseas because no one knows us from a bar of soap. They don't have issues around te reo Maori or my politics - in fact, I think that's part of our charm. When you go in with a clean slate, you stand and fall on your performance and that's quite liberating. Of course, the fact that after all these years, I'm still singing, recording, touring, writing - and feeling like I'm getting better at it - I think that's success.

My interest in the big questions arose at the University of Auckland in the 80s.

On campus, I studied under Jane Kelsey and David Williams. I met and married my now former husband Willie Jackson, who was the youngest union president in the freezing works, so he was always fighting for the rights of his workers. For the whole Jackson family, including his parents June and Bob, politics and justice was all-consuming. I was around the likes of Hone Kaa, Patu Hohepa, Ranginui Walker, Rua Rakena, Syd Jackson and also Rob Cooper. Rob gave me Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Paolo Friere) to read, then he tested me on it. Every time I asked him a question, he would ask one back. It drove me nuts. But it sure got me thinking. The big questions in my life always evolved around tino rangatiratanga and justice. They still do.

I surprised myself by compromising on something I never thought I would. When I got married, it never occurred to me to drop my surname for my ex-husband's. We had some scrapes over that one. In the end, I took on a double-banger. It was a huge compromise for both of us.

If I were a word in te reo, I would be Maniapoto. Proudly so.

In terms of commentary on current affairs, I'm desperate to hear or read more of Robert Fisk, whose 2008 lecture I attended; and John Campbell, whose probing interviews with Minister Nick Smith have helped propel me up the Muriwai hill.

The task I apply myself to with a religious degree of devotion and focus is writing because "every word has to earn its place" (Derek Fox).

In te reo, my current state of mind is Marie - calm.

Aotearoa was at its healthiest, in terms of activism, in the 70s and 80s. I watched the Maori Land March, occupations of Bastion Pt and Raglan on television as a schoolgirl. There was He Taua (led by Hone Harawira) and the 81 Springbok protests. There was the 1984 Hikoi to Waitangi and annual protests up there, the Hui Taumata, the NZ Maori Council v Attorney-General re the State-Owned Enterprises Bill. As well, the anti-nuclear movement, push for the Waitangi Tribunal, rallies for the Homosexual Law Reform, Maori Language protest ... yeah, it was all go back then, on multiple fronts.

Maori are part of a continuum that has whakapapa and obligations to the past, present and future, so to look at a generation in isolation - like millennials - is kind of short-sighted.

I am most proud of my son Kimiora, 25, and daughter Manawanui, 8. They are good kids, who are respectful and have kind hearts. They are also independent thinkers and aren't afraid to lead.

I am not vaguely interested in and have no aptitude for anything technical. It drives my partner, Toby Mills, nuts because he thinks I should learn. I'd rather he admit defeat and just sort out my computer/remote control/car radio for me.

I have yet to learn how to accept a compliment with grace.

Technology will, in the recording studio, never be able to replace soul and passion. In life will it never take hold of the power and intimacy of human touch.

The longest period of time I've gone without talking to someone I was close to was seven years.

I have an obsession about cupboards, fridge doors, drawers and toilet lids ... they have to be closed. Why do blokes have a problem with that?

Pleasure feels giddy, decadent and slightly guilty.

If there is a god, I would like to say to him/her: why are your lot always fighting and killing each other in your various names?

The thing that makes me high ... when you're inside a musical vortex that can only happen when you, your musicians and the audience are in perfect synergy and for a few moments, the only world that exists is the one you are creating right there and then. It is fleeting but so intoxicating, you crave for the next hit. And when I sang for Nelson Mandela 20 years ago and was rewarded with a hug? Yeah, I'm still high on that.

Moana Maniapoto was inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame at the 2016 APRA Silver Scroll Awards.

- Canvas

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