He appears singing with symphony orchestras then, a month or so later, acting with our top theatre companies; next month, he'll be the musical director for Saturday Night Fever then The Bob Marley All-Stars and during summer, he's bound to pop up at a musical festival.

Laughton Kora, founder member of the band Kora, has a career as a singer, songwriter, musician and actor which is nothing if not eclectic: "I like working with other people, I like being part of a creative endeavour and I'm a massive show-off," he says.

But when Kora talks about how he's built that career, he returns to his earlier life and his 12-year stint as a chippie. Whether you're constructing a driveway - he's done four this year - or writing a song, he advises starting with a well-thought out foundation, thinking ahead and seeing obstacles that might arise and finding ways to overcome them and you definitely don't want to nail yourself into a corner.

Having constructed the foundations of a music career through singing with his family and then in the Smokefree Rockquest winning band Aunty Beatrice, Kora sold his guitar to buy a cordless drill and started a building apprenticeship in his late teens.


A decade later, aged 28, he joined brother Francis at drama school because, he says, performing was where he truly felt comfortable. But it's ideas from his building days that carried him through drama school and he remembers when he goes into schools as a mentor for the NZ Music Commission.

Now, for the first time, he's an artist mentor with Nga Rangatahi Toa, a creative arts initiative which works with teenagers excluded from school. Kora says it's the sort of work he cancels other gigs for. He's one of 10 artist mentors for Nga Rangatahi Toa's Manawa Ora programme.

Held annually, Manawa Ora pairs visual and performing artists with young people to produce their own work - maybe a rap or a spoken word poem - for public performance.

Theatre-maker Aroha White directs this year's programme, called Manawa Ora: Roses in Concrete; the title a nod toward lyrics by American rapper Tupac Shakur, gunned down in 1996. White likens herself to a "patchwork mistress" pulling various threads together.

"There is so much talent in, I think, all of our kids, beyond those we see through the door - all of the kids we see in Aotearoa - and what we do is offer an opportunity for that talent to be nurtured and encouraged. It can be the difference between an individual having an idea that maybe they could be good at something to understanding that they are ... "

Kora is working with a young rapper and says he'll stand by her, offering support and advice as she crafts her own rap.

"It's a work in progress like any other and even when you perform it in a show, there may be more stuff there. I am going to just follow her, she will be teacher for this."

What: Manawa Ora
Where and when: Herald Theatre, October 18-21