Kia Kaaterama Pou has been singing since she was a baby and at 17-years-old she has received the emerging artist of the year at the Waiata Maori Music Awards.

Raised in a musical Rotorua family, Kaaterama was singing before she was talking.

"I used to help my koro at the Marae and I would sing to him as he worked," she said.

"It's just a thing inside me, I always wanted to sing.

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"I like that you can just express whatever you're feeling."

Although she constantly performed for her family at home, she was 13 when she first decided to take the stage in the Ratana Pa talent quest in Wanganui.

"I was so nervous," she said.

"It was my first time singing out in the open and it was such a surprise when I won the intermediate section."

With a new found love for being on stage, Kaaterama began jumping at the opportunity to perform a solo with her school's kapa haka group.

"I found I was getting more opportunities to do solos, and then I was asked if I wanted to sing back-up vocals for Rob Ruha."

Kaaterama began to gain recognition through her performances with Rua and in 2016 she received an email from the team at Pukana.

"They wanted to get a group together of Maori singers to sing in te reo," Kaaterama said.

The Maimoa Music Collective have since released two singles and travelled New Zealand performing.

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"That's where it all began really," Kaaterama said.

"It has opened so many doors."

When applications opened for the Waiata Music Awards, Kaaterama had no intention of applying, but fortunately her manager and colleagues were nominating her in secret.

"I had no idea," she said.

"They got an email the week before the awards night saying I had won, that was the first time they told me."

Kaaterama had won the award for best emerging artist under the age of 25.

"It was a beautiful night," she said.

"Just so amazing, seeing heaps of inspiring artists."

Artists like Maisey Rika, Stan Walker and Six60 were among her fellow award winners.

"My friends tease me a little bit now, they're always saying 'are you too famous for us now'," she said.

"I think really they're all proud, and I am just trying to make my whanau proud."

When she finishes at Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Ruamata at the end of this year, Kaaterama plans to continue her study in music.

"I haven't decided where to study yet, but music will be the key and then teaching," she said.

"I want to teach music to young Maori."

Kaaterama said singing had made her more confident and she would like to open doors for rangatahi like Rob Ruha had for her.

A key focus for her is on Maori music and kapa haka.

"For years te reo Maori has been down in the dumps," she said.

"I just want to encourage people to learn the language and the culture.

"To me it's really important, people disrespect the language instead of getting to understand it."

Kaaterama said she would like to be a role model for young people.

"If they need help or want to follow the path of music, I am here."