They want to take Maori humour and music to the world
Three of the region's top musical talents are preparing for a big year with their showband-style group, the Modern Maori Quartet.
The Lakeside Concert crowd favourites, made up of James Tito of Taupo, Francis Kora of Whakatane, Matariki Whatarau of Tokoroa and Maaka Pohatu of Dunedin, have gone from strength to strength since forming two years ago.
Tito, a Taupo-nui-a-Tia College old boy, came up with the concept of forming a group similar to the show bands of the 1960s.
He said it was humbling to get a good reception in Rotorua last weekend, considering the city's rich musical history.
"A lot of the show bands of the 1960s, including the Howard Morrison Quartet, originated in Rotorua," he said.
"It's great to be following in their footsteps and also be making our own way."
The Toi Whaakari graduates formed the quartet with the aim of combining their musical abilities with their storytelling abilities as actors.
The four have several individual musical, theatre, television and film credits to their names.
These include performances at the Globe Theatre in London, Kora's part in Kiwi band Kora, and Pohatu's part in Robert Sarkies' feature film Two Little Boys.
The Lakeside audience was the biggest crowd the quartet have performed to so far, Tito said.
"We struggled to fill a 20-minute set at our first gig at Q Theatre in Auckland, but on the weekend we struggled to limit our set to 20 minutes for the show.
"It was an amazing first gig. The crowd was choice - everyone was getting so into it."
In the Rotorua Daily Post review of the concert, the quartet was picked as "the biggest stars of the night" - following on from 2014 stars Sol3Mio.
"We've been following what [Sol3Mio] have been doing. It's pretty cool to be touted alongside them."
The quartet hoped to release their first album complete with original songs this year.
"There's a lot of covers we love doing but we don't want to just be seen as a cover band," Tito said.
The challenge was finding time to write new material.
Pohatu is playing Dalvanius Prime in the film Poi E: The Story Behind Our Song and Kora is playing at Homegrown and finishing off a new album.
"We're also looking at doing another TV series ... but I can't say much about that."
The quartet starred in musical variety show Happy Hour last year alongside Temuera Morrison and Keisha Castle-Hughes.
Kora said while it was challenging balancing Kora, the quartet and family life, it looked like everything would align this year.
"We just took the first summer we've had off in 11 years with Kora so I was able to do lots of quartet stuff," he said.
"Then in April and May, we're having a bit of a break from the quartet so I'll be able to focus on Kora then."
The different vibes of the groups were really cool, he said.
"Being Maori, playing music and entertaining is a part of who we are.
"It's really fun being a part of the group humour of the quartet.
"At Kora shows, I just say, 'Yeah! What's happening?' But the quartet tells stories with a lot of back-and-forth banter.
"That old-school Maori humour is what I grew up with."
The former Whakatane High School head boy started performing at a young age with his father and brothers.
Kora said he returned to Whakatane occasionally to teach his 4-year-old daughter the Maori side of New Zealand.
The quartet did not have any plans to play in Rotorua in the immediate future but they would love to play in the city again down the line, Tito said.
"We want to keep building up our New Zealand fanbase and start performing overseas.
"Ultimately, we want to take Maori entertainment to every corner of the globe."