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Tuesday, March 05, 2024

Taite Music Prize finalists announced

The finalists for the Taite Music Prize 2024 have been announced by Independent Music NZ (IMNZ) and Recorded Music NZ. 

The award recognises outstanding New Zealand albums released in the past year. 
The awards will be presented on Tuesday, 23 April at the same time as the NZ On Air Outstanding Music Journalism Award, IMNZ Classic Record and the Independent Spirit Award. 

The winner will receive a cash prize of $12,500. The 10 albums in contention for the 2024 Taite Music Prize span genres from hip hop to indie folk to metal. 

The 2024 Taite Music Prize finalists in alphabetical order are: 

Dick Move - Wet (1:12 Records) 
Ebony Lamb - Ebony Lamb (Slow Time Records) 
Erny Belle - Not Your Cupid (Flying Nun Records) 
Home Brew - Run It Back (Years Gone By) 
Mermaidens - Mermaidens (Independent) 
Shepherd's Reign - Ala Mai (Golden Robot Records) 
Tiny Ruins - Ceremony (Ursa Minor) 
Tom Lark - Brave Star (Winegum Records) 
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - V (Jagjaguwar Records) 
Vera Ellen - Ideal Home Noise (Flying Nun Records)

Monday, March 04, 2024

REVIEW:The Savage Coloniser Show - By Tusiata Avia 29 Feb - 3 Mar 2024 Circa Theatre, Wellington Waterfront (Aotearoa New Zealand Arts Festival)

I came out of this show yesterday utterly stunned.  Tusiata Avia’s writing cuts like the sharpest machete.  No trope stands afterwards.  The blade of her poetry destroys every toxic plant in the weed garden of colonialism.  In this show, wounds will be slashed open, truths will ooze out.  Make no mistake.  This is a bloodletting.  

Combining poetry, dance, action theatre and fa’asamoa director Anapela Polata’ivao has once again delivered a triumphant performance.  Everyone was on their feet by the end.  Everyone.  Even the old 'white people' cowering behind their covid masks.  Including me. 

I’d read several accounts of this show all celebrating the diefiance of the writer.  It's based on Tusiata Avia’s Okham award winning book of poetry ‘The Savage Coloniser Book’ .   

The show is directed by Anapela Polata’ivao who has directed and acted in Avia’s previous ensemble stage play ‘Wild Dogs Under My Skirt’, which made its New York debut in 2018 and was subsequently named winner of Fringe Encore Series at the Soho Playhouse.  

Donna Tusiata Avia MNZM (born 1966) is a poet and children's author, recognised for her work through receiving a 2020 Queen's Birthday Honour.  In 2021 her collection 'The Savage Coloniser Book' won the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.  This show appeared in March last year, as part of the Auckland Arts Festival and it went down exceptionally well.  Much of the cast came from ‘Wild Dogs ...’, joined by Mario Faumui and Iuni-Katalaina Polata’ivao-Saute in her acting debut.  Iuni-Katalaina was not in this season, at Circa, but Mario remains.     

This afternoon’s show is completely sold out.  Word has got out.  The audience is mixed.  Pacific faces, some with flower lei, blend in with the usual predominantly white middle-class theatre-goers.  Everybody is smiling and talking.  

The lights fade.  The pre-set is six chairs, each with a machete sheathed and mounted on the back, as if actor are was preparing to ride their chosen furniture off on some chivalrous task in the name of the Empire.    

There is an atmospheric haze in the red light.  And a gauze, stretched from the lighting bar to the floor across the who space creates a screen for projected images, and a frame of reference for the coming dialogue. The light represents blood, earth, courage, endeavour.  

At times the projected images provide a poignant white frame, a demarcation of a palagi perspective.  The presidium arch is a European concept, where the theatre has been elevated to high art, for the privileged, not the people of every day and every village.  Beginning in pre-colonial times, there is a spiritual element, with the voices of Samoan women whispered, spoken and then shouted by actors Stacey Lellua, Petmai Petelo, Joanna Mika-Toloa, IIaisaane Green and Katalaina Polata’ivao-Saute.  These are words of defiance.  They try to reclaim heritage and identity.  

Mario Faumui voices, with a booming dominance, the words written by colonialists and missionaries - Those who claim the land grabs and the slaughter at Parihaka.  They gleefully take the credit.  Describing this work, Avia has described these poems and subsequent theatre production as "looking really unflinchingly at racism, specifically in Aotearoa, but it’s incredibly universal, and colonisation, 250 years down the line, where we are now and how savaged we’ve been by it. That’s it, in a nutshell. (RNZ)” 

There are some ensemble and individual moments that will blow you away.  Polata’ivao’s direction elevates Avia’s poetry.  The words leap off the page and become like smoke in your nostrils, they enter and dominate you.  They are harsh, confronting, bitter, but true.    

Every actor is flawless, but even more than that – captivating.

Her poems cover a lot of ground: Colonial history and impacts on the Pacific, that’s obvious.  But more modern themes, too. 

There’s the speech by the well-meaning, but colour-blind Remuera housewife – racism aside, of course.  “C’mon you people, the past is in the past. Let it go.” 

Joanna Mika-Toloa tackles the Body Mass Index head on.  Did you know it was invented in 1832 by Adolphe Quetelet, a Belgian statistician, mathematician, and astronomer, who, inspired by his passion for statistical analysis wanted to establish quantifiable characteristics of the "normal man."  Instead, it became a weaponised measure of credibility.  

In one poem Mika-Toloa debunks the myth and dismisses all the medical professionals who mis-judged her and forced her (or her character at least) into literally selling her body and soul to pay for medical care.    

Katalaina Polata’iva-Saute stands out in a piece that calls all brown creatives, in garages everywhere to ‘stop composing operas, writing theses, inventing and being creative' and join a gang, make a ‘smart’ career choice.  Clearly, it’s an ironic and well-deserved response to white repulsiveness.      

Mika-Toloa also delivers a spinetingling performance of Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’ and in another character, becomes the coolest, hippest ‘bad bitch’, claiming she and her posse of disgruntled girlfriends are gonna drive around the white suburbs looking for white women to beat up.  Yeah, cos that’s actually gonna happen – maybe after catching three buses home from the three cleaning jobs and making dinner, tidying up their overcrowded home, putting the kids to bed and... oh, never mind!  

‘The City Fathers’ doesn’t appear in the original book but is highly relevant.  It’s focus is the history of racism in Aotearoa, nd how it is still with us.  Celebrate, it states, acknowledge the statues of past colonists and add a new statue, in honour of that wicked Australian who caused the massacre in Christchurch in 2019.  It’s a name I will not write here.  But in the context of naming racists past and present, they do name him in the show.   Add him to the statues, in the city where Avia was born and raised, to prominent leaders of land grabs, a Minister of Native Affairs who ordered the invasion of Parihaka.  It’s a time when Māori were assimilated into western society.  When the reo was beaten out of those that spoke it.  But they were also segregated from Pākehā society.   

We all know that history underpins current thinking and that includes white supremacist thinking.  This is the past subverted and hurled back at the racists like bullshit it really is.  Avia’s writing is totally unapologetic.  

As can be read in the poem ‘250th anniversary of James Cook’s arrival in New Zealand’ in which the cast confront the ghost of the man, and others “Hey James,” they shout, “yeah, you/in the white wig/in that big Endeavour/sailing the blue, blue water/like a big arsehole/F… YOU, BITCH!” 

Last year David Seymour sought to make political capital, claiming the Government was "funding hate" by supporting this show and that it was about "murdering James Cook, his descendants and white men like [him] with pig hunting knives". 

"The Government,” he spouted, ignorantly, and provocatively, “through Creative New Zealand, which taxpayers fund and whose board Ministers appoint, is supporting works that incite racially motivated violence." 

Pandering to his outraged blue rinse brigade he read the poem literally, claimed it was violence inciting.  For a man who thought dancing on TV would boost his like-ability, the irony was clearly lost on him. 

Act called on the Government of the day to withdraw $107,280 in ‘taxpayer money’ that supported the show and ‘apologise’ for "giving so much to racism in the first place".  (Newshub ). 

Suffice to say, that never happened.  

“What’s happened, basically, is my poem and my show,” retaliated Avia, “has been reduced down to a platform for the political right, and that is crap. That’s where the hate and the racism comes in. It’s creating more fear and more intolerance in this country, where we don’t need that. It’s pulling on the fears of people who have not been educated to know what colonisation even is.” (RNZ

Avia, in a sneaky last minute re-write adds a couple of lines in retaliation of PM Luxon and sidekick Seymour's latest stupidities.  It shows exactly why shows like this are needed. 

That it’s so easy to sweep racism under the carpet and ignore brown people, make them invisible, continue to celebrate founding fathers and keep history ignorant.   This show reflects ourselves back on ourselves.  

A mirror is used as a prop at times, blended with the transitions and choreography made so fluid by Tupua Tifagua.  

Lights dip and bend between ocean blues, waves and earth tones.  At one point the women transform into the mythical ‘dusky maidens’ of Paul Gaugin’s art and his colonisation of Tahiti (also his spreading of syphilis amongst the population and his paedophilia).  Avia doesn’t hold back cursing him and claiming he had partially destroyed the islands for ever.  

'The Savage Coloniser Show' is possibly the most honest and disruptive performance I’ve seen in a long time.  I found it uncomfortable, yet empowering.  I, as a white person, must own my colonial past and acknowledge what my tupuna did to all brown people, whether intentionally or not.  That will be painful.  But it must be done before we can move on.  

It's work like this that allow us to travel in the same waka through history, and that really helps.     The past isn’t in the past.  It’s with us right now.  This unapologetic piece is a stark reminded.  But it also is a cathartic approach.  This should be compulsory for anyone who smugly claims to know our history.  It’s a book they won’t have read.  And they really should.   

Friday, March 01, 2024

REVIEW:The Soweto Gospel Choir Michael Fowler Centre 27 February 2024 - New Zealand Aotearoa Festival Of The Arts


The Soweto Gospel Choir Michael Fowler Centre 27 February 2024 - New Zealand Aotearoa Festival Of The Arts Formed in Soweto, South Africa, by David Mulovhedzi and Beverly Bryer, and producers Andrew Kay, David Vigo and Cliff Hocking in 2002 The Soweto Gospel Choir is 30 strong ensemble. 

They blend elements of African gospel, Negro spirituals, reggae and a selection of material from the American songbook. 

Their title hints at being a spiritual group. But they are so much more than just a church group. Their albums ‘Blessed’, ‘African Spirit’ and ‘Freedom’ have won Grammies for Best Traditional World Music Album in 2006, 2007 and 2019, respectively. 

They also feature on the Peter Gabriel/Thomas Newman song "Down to Earth", written for Pixar's 2008 feature film WALL-E, which was nominated for the Golden Globe. And they’ve done work for Peter Gabriel's tenth studio album ‘’i/o’, including the tracks, ‘Road to Joy’ and ‘Live and Let Live’. 

They’ve performed for Nelson Mandela, toured internationally multiple times and racked up over 46664 concerts, to date. But they’ve never played in Aotearoa. Until now. 

Tonight’s sell out concert at the Michael Fowler Centre was years in the making. The Festival has been trying to get the Choir here for many years. But international events, COVID and other challenges have thwarted attempts. 

It was an all-ages capacity crowd. At the beginning of the concert, we were reminded of ‘Soweto’ we learn is an acronym for ‘South-Western Townships’ and South Africa’s largest Black urban complex. 

It adjoins the city of Johannesburg and was created in the 1930’s when the white government started separating Blacks from Whites, creating separate townships. Most of us know about Soweto because of the Springbok Tour protest movement in the 1980’s, the rise of the ANC and international condemnation of apartheid policies in South Africa. 

Not quite the usual 30 strong ensemble, tonight’s performers managed 15 plus a keyboardist and a drummer. But they made up for it in energy and sound. The programme, named ‘Hope’, after the Choir’s latest album, was a 2-part programme. 

The first half featured freedom from the years of struggle under apartheid. There are over 8 ‘official languages’ and each song was different – Zulu, Sotho, Tswana and Xosa - culminating in a final celebratory piece about the life of Mandela. 

Each song had a different soloist, sometimes two or three and some incredible choreography to match. Topics ranged from village life, heroes, religious themes and stories about rising up against oppression. 

The opening song, 'Nonkoneyane Ka Ndaba' by Mbongeni Ngema, is a powerful anthem, inspired by the historical figure Nkonyane Ka Ndaba. It emphasizes his strength and bravery in the face of adversity. It’s a David and Goliath theme. A freedom totem against white oppression. The accompanying dance has a tribal unity to it, yet it’s infectious and we all can’t help clapping along. Voices are both separate and together. The song is repetitive and almost like a fairy-tale rhyme, easy to get into. 

 ‘Mbayi Mbayi’ in uplifting number about the 1976 Soweto uprising. They also do a popular Sotho song ‘Joh Lefihi’, which is riotous and joyful, again with a powerful dance which all the choir are involved in. ‘Umandela Uthi Ayihlome’ (Xhosa struggle song) is about Mandela (who was Xhosa, and can trace his lineage back to the Thembu Chief Nxeko). He is preparing his people for the struggle ahead, to fight for freedom. It utilizes all the voices of the choir in an arch of vocal unity, punctuated with bird calls and clicks (which are common elements of Xhosa music). 

The spiritual ‘Judgement Day’ is completely different from what I expected from a Gospel group. This is not the sounds of Harlem or Chicago. If you’ve ever seen an African group play, you’ll know that the music includes a variety of drums and clicks, bird calls, yelps, claps, stomps and calls. Arms and legs are going full on, and the harmonies are just so perfect. 

The vocalists are spine-tingling, every one of them. From the dark velvet rich bass of the men to the mature ochre of the altos, and the shrillness of the female sopranos and male tenors. They perform their songs with such fluid yet poignant movements. Rhythm just oozes out from every pour. The energy on stage is so vibrant. Such an intense rich rainbow of sound and colour. 

After a break, the second act starts up with tunes more familiar to my ears – ‘Song and Dance’ and ‘Amen’. The men line up, Temptations style, and deliver an absolutely beautiful version of Stevie Wonder’s classic ‘Love’s In Need Of Love Today’. This is one of many goose bump moments. 

They also do a Dylan number, ‘You Gotta Serve Somebody’. 

And because of their longstanding connection to Peter Gabriel, it’s compulsory to do ‘Don’t Give Up’, the duet he did with Kate Bush back in the 1980’s. 

No set of American Soul Freedom songs would be complete without a Staple’s number and this time it was ‘I Take You There’ that got their choir’s special treatment. And with multiple soloists and yet more tingling honey-harmonies this was yet another highlight. 

We finish on a long and jubilant version of Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ which becomes a massive sing-a-long. I think the choir was genuinely moved by our response as we all sung back, stating in ovation towads the end. There were tears of joy in the eyes all around. The was a lot of aroha in the whare tonight. 

This was what festivals are about, celebrating diversity and uniqueness, music and culture, no matter where it’s from. 

Who knew I’d be won over by a choir? But this group really is special. They remain true to their multi-African roots and wear their hearts on their sleeves when performing. It’s hard to capture the absolute joy and abundant energy that flowed from the stage tonight. 

My final recommendation: if Soweto Gospel Choir ever comes to town, make sure you get a ticket. Missing out is not an option. 

1st Act 
Nonkonyane Ka Ndaba 
Bawo Xa Ndilahlekayo 
uMandela uth'aihlome (Xhosa struggle song) 
Judgement Day
Litshonile Li Langa 
Pasopa Verwoerd 
Joh Lefihi
Mbai Mbai (or Mbayi Mbayi) 
Freedom Medley 

2nd Act
Song and Dance
Love’s In Need Of Love Today 
Today You Will Be Moved 
You Gotta Serve Somebody 
Don’t Give Up 
I’ll Take You There 
Stand Up 

For more Festival events go to

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Review: 'No Hetero' and 'Exes and Nos' - Circus Bar (Preview 9 February 2024)

Tonight, I got to see the preview of two upcoming shows at this year’s Fringe Festival 

'No Hetero' - Hadley Wilson (Crooked Love Productions) 
Circus Bar - 7PM 16/17 Feb 2024 

They don’t mind being a stereotype as long as she's a gay one. She looks gay right? 

Comedian Hadley Wilson has been a staple at Queer Comedy Nights at the Fringe Bar, in Allen St. She also run’s various other Queer activities like Rock Climbing nights. 

Billed as a ‘stand-up comedy campfire story experience’ and the ‘gayest comedy Ted Talk you always wanted’, ‘No Hetero’ is loosely frames around Wilson’s life and adventures growing up in a profoundly and deeply Christian family and breaking out and coming out over her 30 odd years, looking for her own validation of her queerness and trying to shake off her imposter syndrome. 
Divided into ‘eras’ – and no there was no reference to Tay Tay (well, nearly none) – thier ‘slide show’ navigates early life being the ‘best at being good’, attending Bible Camps, girls-only sleepovers, going through her ‘Autumn’ years, making teen heartthrob photo boards of hunky actors with sweeping haircuts, her sorority girl-crush years, puppy love Pinterest boards, a botched engagement and finally realising it was actually women, not men, that they craved all along. 

Their approach is endearing, homely and just a little bit twee as she connects all the dots on this journey, growing up in British Columbia, traveling the world and eventually settling down here in Aotearoa New Zealand. 

I love the friendship bracelets, handed out, that represent ‘every version of Queerness’ and her various samples of poor fashion sense through the eras. At Times the information shared was very personal and I take my hat off to Wilson for opening up like this.  

It's difficut and confronting to make fun of yourself and your own beliefs in the way she did, and that should be acknowledged. ‘No Hetero’ hilariously confronts a unique experience of growing up in an uber-conservative world of a evangelical Christianity community. 

This is, at least for Wilson, a world that maintains a straight whitewashed opinion of sexual identity - . What Wilson calls ‘compulsory heterosexuality’. 

It’s a homespun, a bit dinky and often very funny, slightly anxious and always an adventurous identity search to prove how Queer Hadley Wilson really is. 

‘Exes and Nos’ - Rachel Mercer 
Circus Bar - 8PM 16/17 Feb 2024 & Vogelmorn Bowling Club 7PM 24 Feb 2024 

Since her first hilariously chaperoned date in 2003 Rachel Mercer has been drawing inspiration from her lacklustre lovelife, cringeworthy encounters, and personal anxieties. 

With the help of a few wigs and a boxer's punch dummy called ‘Lori’ turns her love failures into clever, sad, sometimes cutting and witty songs about her darkest moments.  With her trusty ukulele in hand, they announce that this show is really a big opportunity to elicit a date, with anyone, literally.  Because every other attempt to do so has fallen completely flat.  

Its a series of vulnerable confessions, cringing moments, even a spot of intentional politicised protest nudity (#freethenipplemovement, yeah!).  

I love her brash, confronting presence and also candidness - the way she wears her heart on her sleeve about many sensitive issues, such as their Trichotillomania (also called hair-pulling disorder), escape from certain marriage to a man and vices like oversleeping.  

The first half of the show is punchy, Mercer is on point and sharp as a tack.  The second half is a little bit less polished, perhaps a bit under rehearsed.  But as the season comes on that should change.    

I'd recommend seeing both these together, as a complete and varied package about Queer identity.  All in all, expect some two out-of-the-box gigs that come from completely different ends of the rainbow.  

You’ll leave knowing way more than you should about Christian Summer camps, lesbian imposter syndrome, OCD, and Mercer’s nipples. Review - CoffeeBar Kid

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

WOMAD 2024 - 18 new artists added to the Line Up

 More news from our WOMAD Taranaki whānau