Twelve Questions: Hinewehi Mohi

Hinewehi Mohi established Auckland's Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre after seeing how music helped her severely disabled daughter Hineraukatauri, who has cerebral palsy. Last year, the singer and TV commissioner had a double mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Next week, she releases a new album to raise funds for the centre.

Hinewehi Mohi says looking after her severely disabled daughter in the early days was like being thrown around in a tornado. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Hinewehi Mohi says looking after her severely disabled daughter in the early days was like being thrown around in a tornado. Photo / Sarah Ivey

1. Your first album, Oceania, was in response to a really difficult time in your life. Can you describe that period?

I was a solo mum with a severely disabled child and I was alone and in hospital with her a lot and trying to cope there and then at home sometimes. It was really hard, really frightening. Way more scary than me having breast cancer. It set me up for being able to cope with my own illness, I think, because that was like a walk in the park in comparison. You want so much for your child. You want the best. And this was like being thrown around in a tornado where you can't control anything. You don't have any ultimate jurisdiction over how things will come out. I was 31 at the time, so a little bit older. But still pretty flaky, really.

2. When was your lowest point?

When we decided she wasn't able to breathe properly on her own. You know, breathing, it's kind of a vital function, right? I'd tried to manage the fact she was struggling with it.

I remember waking up and she was in bed with me and there were tissues strewn all over the room from helping her with mucous and coughing and trying to clear her airways. I must have had about five minutes' sleep that night, just dozing, and I finally thought: "This is a crisis point. I'm being stubborn. She needs help to breathe."

3. Did you think she might die?

I spent probably the first 10 years of her life consciously thinking every day, "Will she die?" And I don't think like that any more. She's 17 and really big and strong. She's outlived all expectations and she's a fighter. She's a typical teenager in some ways. She doesn't communicate as much at the moment. I have to accept she's disinterested now in lots of things I'm still interested in. But when she does show joy, I'm like, "Wow." Her smile, that's everything. That makes my love for her complete.

4. What's the biggest misconception about people with cerebral palsy?

That they're not intelligent. Especially if someone with CP is non-verbal, people think they don't understand things and aren't aware.

5. How did you meet your husband, George?

At the film and TV awards in 1998. He was there with a friend and it was certainly unexpected. I was a bit tipsy boo. And of course I wasn't with Hineraukatauri. The first thing he said when he met her later was, "Can I hold her?" And she wasn't easy to hold. She had a tracheotomy for the breathing. It was hard to get close to her. And when he said that, I thought, "Oh, you are gorgeous."

6. Has music been therapy for you, as well as your daughter?

Completely. I sang a little bit before having a child but afterwards it was how I grieved. That first album is very emotional for both Hineraukatauri and me. I sang some of the songs at a talk I was giving once, and she just started howling when she heard the music.
She was only young but she remembers that time like an elephant.

7. Do you like the word "brave"?

It's a word that best describes the people I love most. We're not all brave all of the time. But everyone has their stuff to deal with and there is some bravery in everyone whom I love best.

8. What are your spiritual beliefs?

I have quite a private and personal spirituality. I try to pray only when I need something desperately.

9. If you could have been a world-famous pop star, which one would you choose?

I love the voices of Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion ... but I'd love to look and sound like Beyonce, ha!

10. You've sung all over the world after the success of Oceania. Who has been your musical mentor?

There have been many mentors and this latest album is really a reworking of my music of the past 20 years, and a tribute to them. One of them was Dalvanius [Prime]. If you talk to many people who knew him, they'd say the same thing. He taught me everything about showmanship and stage presence. He was the master of that.

11. Has your cancer gone for good, do you think?

Well, people talk about going into remission for five years or whatever but I have my six-monthly check-up on Monday and there's a part of me that goes, 'Ohohohoho'. You never know what could be lurking around the corner but you have to just get on with things rather than dwelling on it. Otherwise it's too overwhelming.

12. What's the best advice you have ever been given?

He iti hau marangai e tu te pahokahoka - a little storm and then a rainbow appears ...

- NZ Herald

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