The NZ Music awards rightly puts our artists on a pedestal for an evening.

It's live, so the potential for chaos is high. And there is always debate about the categories at "the Tuis".

Last year, Aaradhna won Best Urban/Hip Hop album for Brown Girl - an album that touched on prejudice and racism.

Live, the singer announced she was giving the Tui to Onehunga rappers Swidt whom she felt were more appropriate winners.


"I feel like if you're putting a singer next to a hip-hop artist, it's not fair. I'm a singer, I'm not a rapper. I'm not a hip-hop artist.

"It feels like I've been placed in a category for brown people, that's what it feels like."

She also suggested that the awards needed a soul/r&b category - a genre she identifies with more strongly than "urban/hip hop".

And so in 2017, a soul/rnb artist category was created.

As well as a category for brown people.

The inaugural Best Maori Artist category doesn't recognise - in the title at least - te reo.
It recognises an artist for being Maori.

It was won by Te Karehana Gardiner-Toi (Teeks) - from Te Tai Tokerau, who took the title over fellow Northlanders Alien Weaponry. A third nominee, Maisey Rika withdrew, and has said little publicly as to why.

Alien Weaponry's second single Raupatu is sung in te reo and it won them an Apra Maioha Award in September.

Teeks' music that has circulated in 2016/2017 is not in te reo.

But his acceptance speech was. A fluent speaker, he also teaches the language.

One wonders what Teeks thinks about being honoured for being the best Maori artist in New Zealand music right now.

It's part of the ongoing debate about separating race into categories for recognition.

We do it with the Maori All Blacks - perhaps we have evolved to the point where we need to step back and say "are we celebrating or patronising Maori with race criteria?"

We also have debate over Maori wards in politics - opponents say it is prejudice.

Yet there is a strong argument for ensuring that government hears the Maori voice, and relying on the election of Maori MPs is not a sure-fire way of guaranteeing that.

When it comes to the performing arts and literature, awards that recognise the promotion of te reo stand tall because they are championing the survival of a language that in turn helps keep a culture alive.

But surely we are past patting people on the back because they are brown?

Swidt, by the way, won again this year in the best hip hop category and are rated as one of the hottest live acts in the country right now.

Alien Weaponry are turning heads as well, as is Teeks who was also in the soul/r&b category. And they are earning respect for their music, their art, regardless of race.

On one hand, the NZ Music Awards organisers got it right by listening to Aaradhna last year when she suggested a soul/r&b category was needed.

But in creating "Best Maori Artist" they clearly didn't listen to the rest of her speech. The bit about "brown people".

And nor did they listen to Brown Girl - a song on an album that has given Aaradhna fans all around the world.

"I'm more than the colour of my skin / I'm a girl that likes to sing / All I know is what's within / Not just a brown girl in the ring."