By Arnold Pickmere and NZPA

Singer, songwriter, producer. Died aged 54.

Dalvanius Prime died in Hawera on Thursday after a long battle with congestive heart disease and cancer.

The 54-year-old entertainer, whose musical career spanned 30 years, was best known for his singing association with the Patea Maori Club and for his hit song Poi E.


In recent times he has been a tireless campaigner for the return of moko mokai - preserved tattooed heads of Maori ancestors - from museums and collections overseas.

Born and raised in Patea in south Taranaki, the son of a freezing worker, Dalvanius once described growing up in the town with his seven brothers and four sisters as "rough".

But he put the experience and his own troubles as a kid, which included stealing the school bus and wrapping it around a lamp-post, to good use, working with young people right up to his death.

He was an advocate for young people involved in court cases and victims of domestic violence, and a mentor for those he had helped to guide into career paths.

Music was one of those career paths. Dalvanius ran access courses which taught young people all facets of music, including performance skills and how to market themselves.

That leadership was recognised recently with a one-off award from Te Waka Toi, the Maori Arts board of Creative New Zealand, for his "leadership and outstanding contribution to Maori arts".

Dalvanius' own career started when he won a talent quest on Wellington's 2ZB radio station. From there he joined a Porirua trio called the Shevelles before forming the Fascinations and touring throughout Australasia.

In 1983 he formed his own production company, Maui Records. And he became increasingly involved with Maori music.


"When I was starting in music, all my idols were American black musicians," he said. "I'd like to make it possible for Maori kids to have Maori idols ... I don't mean that I think they are going to turn back to traditional music, I just think it would be good if there was something distinctively Maori about what they heard."

The hit single Poi E, his adaptation of words written by the late Ngoi Pewhairangi and recorded with the Patea Maori Club, was the best-selling record in New Zealand in 1984.

Frank Stark writing in the Listener described it as "very simply a combination of a classically styled poi song with a funk backing from rock and roll musicians".

It pleased purists enough to be judged first equal in the poi song category at the 1983 Polynesian festival in Auckland. Yet the disco-mix version of the record, which sold so well, was a big favourite with breakers.

The Patea Maori Club group was also one of the few bright aspects of a town among the first to be devastated by the closure of its freezing works in the early 1980s.

Dalvanius' political views were often associated with music. In 1984 he accused the Government of suppressing Maori culture, partly by its 40 per cent sales tax on records.

And he also accused it of "using Maori culture cosmetically whenever royalty or other dignitaries come".

In 1999 he stood for Parliament in the western Maori seat of Te Tai Hauauru. He stood for Piri Wiri Tua, which fielded a joint list of candidates with other Maori interests, and had a platform of limited self-government by Maori for Maori.

Dalvanius chose to campaign through song - "I think people are sick and tired of hearing the preaching stuff" - and in the end stepped down and endorsed protester Ken Mair, who articulated similar policies, such as self-determination.

Always larger than life, Dalvanius Prime had a passion for the miniature. Chihuahua dogs and a flock of carefully bred Wyandotte chickens were among his hobbies.

Prime re-entered hospital last Sunday. His sister-in-law Robyn Prime said: "We knew last night it would be the end. They have only just finished making a film about his life - now they have the ending for it. He looks very peaceful, there was a lot of singing, the last song was Poi E."

When he died he was working on three recording projects and was due to go to the United States to complete negotiations for the repatriation of a number of moko mokai held in American museums and institutions.

He was of Tainui, Ngapuhi, Ngati Ruanui, Tuwharetoa, Nga Rauru, Pakakohi and Ngai Tahu descent.