I have always thought of Mere Boynton as one of Wellington's musical taonga; she trained as a singer at Victoria University and, in the 1990s, was a spellbinding performer at one of the city's Composing Women's Festivals.
Next Saturday, at Te Uru, she will sing with a very special band, alongside composer Jonathan Besser, in one of Auckland Arts Festival's three Close Encounters presentations.
Aroha/Ahava takes its name from the Maori and Hebrew words for love, inspired by the Song of Solomon and issues of land, whenua and family. Boynton and Besser, with an ensemble featuring strings and vibraphone and Chris O'Connor of the Phoenix Foundation on drums, will weave a multicultural tapestry from it all.
Boynton cheerfully credits Gareth Farr for drawing her into the radar of our composing community, by including her in his music for the 1998 opening of Wellington's Te Papa.
"We experimented with karanga and chant," Boynton recalls. "With my classical training, enjoyment of working with crossover as well as singing in te reo Maori, other composers called on me to do their music."
Boynton is based in Gisborne, where she grew up "on a farm way out of town". Singing lessons were organised "when the school principal heard me at kapahaka and my voice was higher and louder than the others around me".
At Victoria University, she enrolled in linguistics and Maori Studies, but "when I'd completed my degree, I realised I didn't want to be a policy analyst. I wanted to be a singer!"
The young Boynton made an impressive screen debut in 1994 playing Rena Owen's friend, Mavis, in Once Were Warriors.
"I was in my early 20s and quite naive. I felt at the time that there was something in this movie that was quite frightening in its political and social implications. I didn't see the bashing scenes. Mavis was a lighter, fun character. Even now, people recognise me in the street - if they don't think I'm Mavis, I'm their cousin or something."
Boynton's most recent Auckland appearance was as a soloist in the 2013 Auckland Arts Festival presentation of Jack Body's Songs and Dances of Desire, with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. In this tribute to the late Carmen Rupe, she and mezzo Anna Pierard sang te reo Maori and Spanish settings of words that, for the composer, caught "the strongest expression of women's desire".
Singing in her own language is "very, very similar to singing in Italian," says Boynton. "You jump off the consonants on to the vowels. The shape of the vowels means your mouth is always rounded, so it's easy to make a beautiful sound."
Yet, using the language of her Te Aitanga a Mahaki, Ngati Oneone and Tuhoe ancestors goes beyond musical convenience. "It's always very emotional for me as it brings that taha Maori to my performance. I still enjoy singing English but sometimes I find that it tastes bitter on my tongue."
One of Boynton's contributions to the upcoming Aroha/Ahava has been translating Besser's songs into te reo for a project that has been a wonderful collaboration. She is astonished at the fluency of his composing, writing many of the songs before she commissioned the piece in 2013.
"I was able to choose the ones I liked and, working with him over the last 18 months, change and mould them around my voice."
Asked for favourites, she settles for two, admitting they are polar opposites.
In Light Pressure Building she enjoys "creating a feeling of drowning and suffocation through the song" while Kiss Me My Darling is "almost haka-like. I really like its wildness," she laughs.