Inducting Moana Maniapoto into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame? That’s just dangerous, writes Russell Baillie

Clearly, inducting Moana Maniapoto into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame is a big risk. For one thing, should tonight's ceremony feature everyone her music has involved, influenced or inspired, it's likely to run well into next week.

For another, should APRA, which is inducting her, want to reflect her music with a live performance, that's just a big ask.

The tribute band would need to be able to manage a medley of waiata, haka, hip-hop, electronic dub, reggae, funk, soul, while leaving room for taonga puoro (traditional instruments) and choral music. And even being able to play all that brings with it another hazard - sometimes Maniapoto's songs can also run into next week.

Another risk is the chance that due to gig commitments Moana may not even show up. She may be in Russia or Finland or Germany. In the past decade-plus her globe-trotting band has played far more on the Northern Hemisphere music festival circuit than it has at home.


Or she simply may have other important stuff to do. Stuff like making docos, writing a column, being an activist, even picking up some other award. She's already an Arts Laureate and a recipient of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

But all going well, Moana Maree Maniapoto (Ngati Tuwharetoa/Tuhourangi-Ngati Wahiao) will have nothing else on.

So, hopefully, she'll be there in person to be inducted into that hallowed hall (which frankly needs a Maori name about now), and where she'll be in good company. Richard Nunns, the taonga puoro expert who was inducted with the late Hirini Melbourne in 2009, was also an early member of her live band, the Moahunters.

And the honour is a reminder that for all her multimedia profile, Maniapoto has been a working musician even before the release of the Moahunters' first single Kua Makona in 1987.

She did her time in nightclub covers bands to pay her way through law school before her musical side and her political bent starting finding their joint expression in the songs of her bands - Moana and the Moahunters until the late 90s, the Moana and the Tribe since.

They scored some top ten hits with 60s soul cover Black Pearl (no. 2 in 1991), and the poi rhythm-sampling debut album title track Tahi (no. 9 in 1994).

Meanwhile, the Moahunters became, well, a tribe.

"At New Zealand's first-ever Womad concert, I had 22 people on stage with me - warriors, rappers, an entire brass section. And that wasn't counting Tame Iti and his mate who wandered on stage during Treaty," she recalled in the liner notes to The Best of Moana and the Tribe album. "It was hugely creative, heaps of fun but chaotic onstage and unmanageable off".

But even with the change from the grand ensemble to the stripped-back, acoustic-based Tribe, Maniapoto has persevered and thrived.

Arguably, she has done more to make te reo heard around the world than any other artist.
No, that's not counting singers of national anthems at rugby tests. Fittingly, though, Hinewehi Mohi, who famously sang the whole anthem in te reo in 1999, is giving tonight's induction address.

For that alone, Maniapoto may deserve tonight's honour. But she deserves it, too, for sustainability of career and a resolute stickability towards her music.

She has been a rare political artist in a local music landscape that doesn't breed - or tolerate - many.

Which brings us to another risk factor. That honouring her now for her music is just way too early.

After all, Hall-of-Famers are mostly honoured for her past glories. But Maniapoto and band released her fifth album Rima in 2014 and she's in the planning stages for Ono.

And having started out pioneering a fresh approach to Maori pop, on the likes of Wha and Rima she's moved beyond the World Music cliche of combining the contemporary and traditional.

Now less a colourful kete of influences, Maniapoto's music has become its own thing. A thing that couldn't come from anywhere else but here.

Who: Moana Maniapoto.
What: NZ Music Hall of Fame inductee as part of the APRA Silver Scroll Awards tonight
Watch it: Broadcast by RNZ on Freeview Channel 50