Weekend leisure: The new seekers

By Danielle Wright

Danielle Wright meets a kapa haka group singing to find themselves.

Nga Tangata Hou - united by the power of song. Photo / Supplied
Nga Tangata Hou - united by the power of song. Photo / Supplied

I'm locked outside the Te Unga Waka Marae, serenaded on an Epsom street by Sidharth Pagad, Lian Wong, and Fabian Low, who started a kapa haka group because he had lived a large part of his life in New Zealand and wanted to get to know the culture on a more intimate level.

"I lived in Christchurch and tried to absorb the Kiwi culture. I took to Friday drinks and tried to fit in. It was all good, but after a while I wanted something deeper. The connections I was making weren't that strong," says Low. "The kapa haka group, for me, is about trying to find a community."

It's cold on the street, but the group is in high spirits, reassuring Pagad it's okay he forgot to arrange to get the marae key and even offering their own homes nearby as a place to practise for the night. More members arrive, neatly dressed in business suits.

Low picks up his beautiful semi-acoustic guitar (he has his own rock band as well), and the group practise Tutira Mai, which translates as a song of togetherness beginning with: "Line up together people / All of us, all of us".

There's something special about this impromptu busk of Maori songs sung in the open-air with much feeling by the group, mostly originating from SoutheastAsia. If I was blindfolded, I would swear they were traditional Maori singers.

The songs they choose to perform in the group are about unity and inclusiveness. Low explains: "Learning the culture is our form of respect and understanding, to give regard for that. Learning in a meaningful, rather than haphazard, way."

There are different forms of kapa haka (meaning "rank and file") including poi, haka (a challenge) and waiata (an offering by means of a song). Nga Tangata Hou ("The New People") is the name of Low's kapa haka group, which has met at the marae every week for the past year to learn waiata.

"We come here tired after work but the power of the song, the unifying messages of the waiata and the feeling of singing in a group has a positive effect - it's always uplifting," says Low, whose group has performed at the Auckland Intercultural Festival and the Auckland Central Library.

"I joined because I was interested in my identity and where I fit in, as well as New Zealand's identity, because we're still finding one as a country too. It started as a personal thing, but now it's so much more," says Pagad.

As we are about to leave, a young Maori man from the marae stops in the street for a chat. He's very supportive of the group saying: "Cool to see youse still going hard, bros."

He explains why the marae is locked and gets Pragad off the hook - something to do with the matua being on holiday and changes to the financial structure, not Pragad's fault.

From the way the young Maori interacts with the group, it's easy to see the people of this marae may be learning as much from their association with The New People as The New People are learning from them. As I head home, I feel reassured Low and his friends, through kapa haka, may just find what they are searching for.

Sing, sing out loud

To join the group, contact ngatangatahou@gmail.com or visit ngatangatahou.org - there's no charge to participate, just a willingness to learn.

- NZ Herald

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