The Koi Boys singer Kevin Keepa appears in a Maori TV docuseries about The Voice Australia stars' return home to perform with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. As a teenager, he chose to go into state care to escape a violent home.
1 Why did Maori TV make a documentary series about The Koi Boys?
We got a fair bit of momentum when we got to the final of The Voice Australia a few years ago. Our version of an old 60s song called Sha-boom got an instant reaction among our Maori people because it's a well-loved guitar party song. Nuz (Ngahere Ngatai) from our group had already been in a show called The GC about Maori doing good things over here on the Gold Coast and was friends with the producer.
2 How did The Koi Boys form?
We were just three Maori boys that got together for a jam every Sunday at the Koi Restaurant on the Gold Coast. We'd been doing it for 10 years when someone at The Voice saw a Youtube clip and invited us on. We didn't have a name; everyone knew us from Koi so we used that.
3 What was it like having your every move followed by a documentary crew?
It's hard to keep it real at first but we wanted to give them full access. I remember saying, "Be careful - if you want warts and all, you're going to get it."
4 In the series, you go back to Wellington's Cuba Mall where you once busked for a living. How did that come about?
I used to work on the assembly line at the Mitsubishi car plant in Porirua. I was made redundant and had two little babies to support. Busking was fun and better money too. Danny (Faifai) saw me one night. We formed a group called Temperatures Rising and made a name playing the Hutt club scene.
All the accolades went to my head. I got into sex, drugs and rock and roll. I was not a good dad. I left my partner and my kids behind and moved to the Gold Coast. I feel huge regret about that. I think about it all the time.
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5 What was your own childhood in Picton like?
Not good. My father was a hard man; very violent. We'd get hidings for nothing. A lot of mental abuse. He'd say "You're no good, you're useless," especially when he was drunk. My parents loved each other but mum got some fearsome hidings. I'd come home from school and there'd be broken glass all around the house, food all over the walls. One night when I was 11, Mum had had enough. She walked out the door. I chased her down the street. I wanted to go too. She said, "I can't take you with me son." She just had a bag. Where was she going to take me, in the rain, at that time of the night?
6 Did you father take care of you?
Dad went on the DPB. Back then it was paid every two weeks on a Wednesday. On pay day the old man would get on the booze and bring all these people back for a party, like Once Were Warriors . It was fun until they went home. My oldest brother got the brunt of the hidings. Once the money was gone, we'd have another week with nothing. We started stealing food to survive. I got caught taking food from the dairy. The shopkeeper knew what was going on at our house. He goes, "Jeez boy, I wasn't born yesterday. You know what? Just take it and go." I said, "Thank you Mr Devlin."
7 Where did you sleep?
Down at the Picton foreshore there was a whale slide. You go in the mouth, up a ladder, slide down the tale. That mouth was my home. Of course, I got caught by the police. In court, the judge asked if I wanted to be in my father's care or a ward of the state. I chose the state. Outside the court, I could see my father looking at me with hatred in his eyes. He cracked me right in the face. Bang! Down the stairs I went; right in front of my social worker.
8 What was it like being in state care?
I went through two foster homes. My foster parents were beautiful people but they couldn't handle me. I lied and stole. I ended up in Kohitere youth prison. It's been closed down. There were stories in the paper about the boys that got abused in there. The screws back then were terrible. It was not a good environment for kids that had already been in not good environments.
9 Did you get any help reintegrating to life outside prison?
No, you're kicked out the door and on your own. I went to my mum in New Plymouth but she couldn't handle me. I'd get stoned, drunk, fired from a job for stealing from the till. I hadn't learnt anything in prison. I ended up in a halfway house for ex-cons in Mt Roskill, age 16. Sitting in an upstairs bedroom, the window boarded up, staring at the ceiling, I wondered if I should end it all. I thought, "Come on brother, you've been through too much to let the demons get to you." I hitched to Wellington and turned up on my Aunty's doorstep. She took me in. Saved my life, she did. Don't get me wrong, I love my mum too. She did what she had to do, and I forgive her for that.
10 You ended up fathering seven children. Did you do things differently?
I was not a good father to my older children. Not violent - just absent. I left two children from my first relationship and three from my second. My wife took our kids back to Kaikohe. They got no support from me. Not a Christmas card, birthday present, nothing. That was 20 years ago. I have a good relationship now with my son Kelly.
11 Why that son?
He was getting bullied at school for being gay so he came to live with me on the Gold Coast. He's flourished over here. My daughter recently sent me a text out of the blue saying she wanted to come and see me after all these years. She doesn't call me Dad yet but the gap between us is slowly closing. There's one left who still doesn't want a bar of me, which is fair enough. He has every right to be angry. I tell my children they can come to me in their own time if they want to.
12 You've been with your current wife for 17 years and have two more children.
What do you hope to do differently?
I'm a better father now. I'm giving everything I can. I'm not perfect, but I'm more stable. I'm determined to get things right this time. I've lost too much, done too many bad things to get it wrong again.
• The Koi Boys, Maori TV, Thursdays at 9pm and On Demand