A kapa haka legend is returning as chief judge for Te Matatini for the fifth time and can't wait to be a part of it again.

Joe Harawira performed kapa haka himself since he was four before he took over and led the University of Waikato team to 13 national competitions during a span of 26 years.

"It is so good coming back and catching up with all the old foe I used to compete against. In the twilight of my performing I began to get into the judging side of things."

Kapa haka has been at the heart of Mr Harawira even though it has changed over the years significantly.


He said there was a different feel to the cultural art that you never saw in the olden days.

"I guess it is just choreography but for me I love learning from the items, everything about their story, their ancestors, their history and how it is portrayed to the audience."

"I think the performing arts is gaining strength in terms of performance and it is full of some exciting times."

Mr Harawira said the team of 31 judges joining him on the panel come from all over the country and have an array of talents.

He said there was a succession planning process to ensure the quality of judging never slipped.

"There is some new faces which is good and they get nominated by the different regions. Then they have to go through a trial judging process."

He arrived on the judging scene in 2009 after finishing his final Te Matatini as part of a team in 2005.

Joining the judges are the all important MCs.

Toni Huata of Ngati Kahungunu and Rongowhakaata descent is one of the MCs this year.

She is a past performer in the Aotearoa Festival of Performing Arts- Te Matatini and is an accomplished singer-songwriter who has toured nationally and internationally.

Her most recent EP Kahungunu Maranga's music video Mohaka is dedicated to Te Matatini and will be released on February 17 in the lead up to the festival.

Joining Ms Huata is the co-leader of the Maori Party Marama Fox, Mathew Gifford a bass singer for the 2014 International Barbershop Quartet, David Jones a five time Te Matatini performer, Peeni Henare a strong advocate for Maori rights and communities and Crystal Edwards a writer and producer for film projects.

All are excited about the prospect of MC'ing this event with Mr Jones returning for the sixth time and Mr Henare for the fourth time.

The festival this year is not only drawing national visitors but also international with the hope of showcasing Maori culture to the world.

In the lead up to the largest kapa haka festival Ngāti Kahungunu is playing host to the Taniwha Dragon economic summit.

The chair of Ngati Kahungunu Ngahiwi Tomoana said they will be bringing Māori, Pacific, Hawkes Bay and Asian business owners together to make the most of the spin‑offs that emerge from the event.

He said this would encourage commercial growth between Asia and Maori and will give Maori the confidence to do more business with Asia.

"We can match up like interests such as the IT firm Huawei and 2-Degrees or Shanghai Fisheries and some of our Maori fisheries companies."

The Samoan and Tongan prime ministers are also attending the festival.