Back in 1997, a young would-be rapper from Manurewa went to a Waitangi Day concert at Manukau City Centre's Civic Square in south Auckland.

Soon Demetrius Savelio adopted the moniker Savage and, with a handful of friends, formed the hip-hop group Deceptikonz. Fast forward nearly 20 years and Savage is one of the biggest names in New Zealand hip-hop and a headline act at this year's Waitangi Day Family Celebration.

He says that first event let him and his friends see other artists on stage and "let us know that it was possible to become that," so he's more than happy to return to Hayman Park this year to perform.

"I feel it's very important to do that, as an artist, as a local resident; it's important to achieve as much as you can out in the world, so you can come back and give it back."


The celebration was launched in 1997 and, five years ago, shifted to Barry Curtis Park in Flatbush but it's back at Hayman Park where there's more parking and better public transport options.

Three Houses Down, Sid Diamond, Dei Hamo and Ranea are other headliners at this year's festival. Entertainment includes kapa haka, DJs and rangatahi groups as well as family-friendly outdoor activities and local food.

The celebration, a partnership between Auckland Council and Toi O Manukau, commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and gives south Auckland performers an opportunity to bring their talents to a wider audience. Rose Whaiapu, chairperson of Toi O Manukau, says in 1997 there was a need for young people in Manukau to be seen and given opportunities to better themselves.

"It was about trying to find the way to help these young people to come away and do something more beneficial for them."

Toi O Manukau started in 1993 to develop and promote Manukau's Maori arts and culture with a "commitment to cultural, educational and economic growth of Maori in the community".

Hip-hop star Savage and Rose Whaiapu, chairperson of Toi O Manukau, both highlight the importance of Waitangi Day. Photo / Michael Craig
Hip-hop star Savage and Rose Whaiapu, chairperson of Toi O Manukau, both highlight the importance of Waitangi Day. Photo / Michael Craig

Savage is a proud South Aucklander ("so should you be," Whaiapu interjects) and says it's important for him to come and give back to the community. "For people like Rose and Toi o Manukau to believe in us as youth, to believe in us to chase our dreams... it's what makes it very important to come back and why I'm so happy to be able to perform here. It was so important that Toi O Manukau nurtured young musicians and young aspiring artists such as myself."

Whaiapu says Toi O Manukau wants to promote cultural activities as well as give opportunities for people to learn about the Treaty of Waitangi.

"Toi O Manukau is commemorating the signing of a living document between the Crown and our people, and taking that on board, even though we've given them their rights we're still autonomous in our own way and still have our own rights as well."

She is blunt and honest about the Treaty's importance today: "It's damn well the most important issue within Manukau."

Savage agrees with Rose on the importance on Waitangi Day, especially as a day of unity.

"It's a day for celebrating being Kiwis," he says. "We're very global, you'll find Kiwis in all odd pockets of the world, and [Waitangi Day] is one of those days where Kiwis will take that day off.

"It's almost become an Australian public holiday itself because there's so many Kiwis over there who celebrate Waitangi Day, and it's just awesome to see how much we embrace this day."

Need to know

Waitangi Day Family Day Celebrations; Hayman Park opens at 9am with a powhiri at 9.30am and activities from 10am.

Celebrations are free and open to all.