Our People: Music hot property Stella Maris

By Jill Nicholas

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Stella Maris. PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER
Stella Maris. PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER

Rotorua's latest hot musical property's an ethnic 'stir fry' making her mark nationally and internationally.

Wander into downtown Rotorua's leading bars and cafes, attend a major festival and Stella Maris will likely be the star attraction.

She's Rotorua's latest upwardly mobile musical talent who, by the time she was 21, had sung in Bahrain and made two trips to Los Angeles, representing New Zealand at the World Performing Arts Championships, winning silver and gold in her second year at the latter.

It was Stella who was centre stage at this past year's New Year's Eve Glo Festival, last year's Seafood Festival, at 16 was singing at Art in the Park and she featured at last night's Student Pulse community concert. It's not all home town stuff - Music Works New Zealand is supporting her as a nationwide emerging artist.

Her versatility's a gift she was born with, something she ascribes to the Maori in her multi-cultural make-up.

"I think every Maori sings from the cradle, at weddings, tangi."

Conversely, neither of her parents is musically inclined but several of her eight siblings are and her grand-aunt's the legendary Aunty Bea Yates (Our People, December 24, 2010).

Owhata Primary ignited Stella's passion for performing.

"We were encouraged to give things a go, from the outset I was up on the stage singing, making up dances, everything arts-related."

She's been a regular kapa haka performer and when her home town hosted the 2013 national Te Matatini contest stood with Kataore. She's also performed with Ngati Wahiao-Tuhourangi.

Stella was 14 when, with her friend Georgia Taylor, she wrote her first song, Te Ika A Maui; it won the native language award at the 2009 Smokefree Pacifica Beats (SFPB) Rotorua regional final and was placed 2nd in the BNZ Uke Can Do It national song writing competition.

Joined by Michael Brown they formed the band MSG.

Another second came at the SFPB 2012 national final in Auckland, where she and Georgia scooped four out of its eight top spots, one the Native Language Award.

"We received $150, it was awesome, that was the moment we were like 'this is not just something you can do for fun, you can be financially rewarded for the work you love'. We were absolutely blown away because the competition was so fierce."

Stella's connection with SFPB has continued; in 2015 she MC'd the local regional final.

"I credit SFPB for the support and encouragement to perform and song write for a lot of my development."

At 15, she was head-hunted to join Waiariki's newly-opened music academy.

"It came at a time I wanted to get some extra tuition in music, I was at classes there three days a week after school."

But there's much more than music to this super smart young woman, factor in she's an academic high achiever.

Had some had their way Rotorua Lakes High's top maths and science female student would have headed for Auckland University and a BSc, probably bolstered by an Arts degree.

"I was being pressured towards it but I was at the point of my life where I realised I was at the crossroads, did I want to concentrate on singing or science? I knew it was up to me to make that decision, my brother, who was at university at the time, said 'do what you are passionate about' and the reality was music was my passion."

After shelving thoughts of university enrolment she returned to Waiariki to be tutored by Richard Anaru (Our People, November 20, 2009), graduating with a diploma in contemporary music performance in 2014.

Another Stella Maris achievement is a Te Wananga Aotearoa Te Aro Reo Maori diploma.
Moving into the workforce she took three jobs - in hospitality, retail and singing at the Amora Lake Resort. That year's hefty work load took its toll.

"I booked a trip to the Gold Coast, when I returned I got seriously into gigging, playing venues and conferences."

Last October 'knowing someone who knew someone' Stella joined the Jakarta-based SOS International Band in Bahrain. "I met them there at lunch time, we were performing together that night."

Bahrain introduced Stella to Latin-inspired music. "You don't hear it a lot here, it was a real bonus, where singing is concerned I'm self-taught."

What then is her specialist genre? There isn't one.

"I like to have a very broad repertoire; relaxing, laid-back music, a little bit of country, jazz, some pop with my own music as well."

Stella relished her Middle Eastern six weeks but was happy to come home.

"I loved returning to the freedom you don't have there, being able to walk to the grocery store by myself, even though it's the Middle East's most liberal place you have to have a man with you."

Her Los Angeles visits pre-dated Bahrain. Self-funded, the Californian trips prompted a lot of hard fundraising yakker.

"Wherever I could play, I played, ran raffles, I was lucky to be supported by land trusts my parents belong to."

This takes her to her "Maoriness" and we learn where Stella's concerned it's a misnomer.
She has a novel description of her ethnic blending.

"I am a real stir fry, my dad's part Fijian Indian, part Maori, part Pakeha, my mum's a mixture of iwi and is part Tongan, it's really, really cool to belong to so many cultures."

Her parents' names remain under wraps. Stella respects their wish to remain private people.

Also off-limits is her boyfriend's identity - "I like to keep my personal life personal" - but we can reveal he too has Rotorua roots and plays in a band "somewhere else in New Zealand".

Something that's not highly classified is another of Stella's public faces - this willowy young woman models for local designers Adrienne Whitewood and Mereana Ngatai.

As a newly minted 22-year-old what ambitions remain?

"My ultimate ambition is to be happy, that comes about in achieving goals I set for myself whether they are music, entertainment-related or personal."

STELLA MARIS:

Born: Rotorua, 1995

Education: Owhata Primary, Mokoia Intermediate, Rotorua Lakes High, Waiariki Music Academy

Family: Parents, five brothers, three sisters

Interests: Music, song writing, contemporary dance, modelling. "I love make-up, baking cookies and cakes. I used to run a lot but now I've got bad knees and ankles."

Favourite singer: I don't want to sound cliched but Beyonce . . . she's the whole package, the way she brings her vision to life is very exciting to watch."

Personal philosophy: "Work hard, be kind, be grateful."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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