This was a gift from Rob Ruha and his wife Cilla. They're two musicians who run a programme with about 40 young people from the East Coast. They gave it to me after working on a record with that group, called Ka Hao, at the start of this year.
This bone flute is called a kōauau. It's a traditional instrument worn around the neck. It's pretty cool because you can keep it with you. It's the most portable instrument that I have.
Ka Hao came down to Wellington and we walked into Massey University, which is a bit like Nasa, with this amazing studio. They just let us at this place which must be worth millions and million of dollars in gear. They gave us free rein in there. I felt like someone had given me the keys to their Ferrari and then asked me to park it in a really tight car park.
We recorded over four days. I was producing, recording and engineering under Rob and Cilla's directions. We finished the album and it's like a gospel record with a choir of 40 kids.
They're a special, special group of people and, on my last night with them, they had almost broken me. It was absolute chaos making music with these kids for almost a week. We were there for four days straight of music and by the end of it I had hardly slept. My kids were with me so I was wiping noses in between takes. I'd have to shoot out and buy them a Domino's pizza or be like, "Hey kids, just give me five minutes ... here's some money for lollies."
On the last night at dinner I was falling asleep in my soup and they all got up and did this huge haka for me and gave me this flute, this kōauau. I must have looked so bewildered.
It's a good representation of what I'd like to do more of and where I'd like to head in the future. Doing more of that kaupapa-driven stuff. They've bought me deeper into a community, which has been an awesome group to be part of. It represents a lot. Rob and Cilla bought me back in, at a time when I wasn't exactly sure what to do next. They gave me some direction to go in. To do more youth work.
I'm still learning how to play it. The amazing thing about taonga pūoro players is that they can play the most oddly shaped, irregular things. Every instrument is a total one-off. They've got to learn its characteristics. I saw a friend of mine playing the shell of one of the native snails. Man, I didn't even know that was an instrument.
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It's a common thing, to name your taonga. I know a lot of these instruments have names. I'll look for a name to connect this bone flute to myself a bit more and make it an heirloom for our whānau.
It's opened a world to me. It's a deep world. It's cool that it connects me back to not just music but Māori traditions. The interesting thing is that it only has three notes. If you thought The Beatles were clever with three chords, try writing a song with only three notes!
- As told to Karl Puschmann.
Mara TK has just released his debut solo album, Bad Meditation, and is playing as part of Elemental Nights on July 16 at Titirangi War Memorial. Tickets on sale now.