New album and a kōrero with local Māori songbird

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Christchurch musician Ariana Tikao has recently moved to Wellington and is the new Research Librarian, Māori in the Alexander Turnbull Library (Arrangement & Description team). She has just released a new album, From Dust to Light, and celebrated with a pre-release gig at Te Papa recently. We asked her some questions about her whakapapa, her music and her new album.

We hear you’ve recently moved up from Christchurch. What brought you up here and how has the shift been for you?
The job really brought me here, but I have to say, that the earthquakes did have a part to play in creating the idea for a change. I do miss family and Christchurch, but it has been a great move for my career. Working at the Turnbull is a bit of a dream job. Also a new music scene and access to new musicians to collaborate with is really positive.

Have you noticed any differences in the music scene between here and Christchurch?
Um, there are not many venues left in Christchurch now. I haven’t really had time to delve into the music scene here yet in a big way, but I really enjoyed working with Lee Prebble at the Surgery, and I am loving working with Ben Lemi Wood who I collaborated with on the album, and also the other musicians who played on the album: Al Fraser, Brooke Singer and Charley Davenport. I think just being in the North Island now is going to open up new opportunities for me in terms of festivals to play at etc.

In what ways have you drawn on your Māori lineage for inspiration for your music?
It is quite a major theme really. It is my main inspiration. I love singing in Te Reo Māori, it has a real wairua of its own, and I find it very emotional. Many of the stories from my whānau or iwi come through as stories or themes in my music.

What’s your musical background? You play taonga puoro; how did you get into that? What other instruments do you play?
I don’t have a background in western music theory, but lately I have been playing taonga puoro, which I have had an interest in for a long time now. Brian Flintoff makes most of my instruments. They are each a taonga as individuals and you need to get to know them all individually as no two instruments are the same. I also play the Appallachian dulcimer which I really love for its delicate sound, and it is pretty easy to play. Mine was made by Ian Davie of Singing Wood.

Is there a story behind your new album; does it have a theme?
Yes. The title was inspired by a picture of Christchurch from the February 2011 earthquake, where dust rose above the city from the fallen buildings. It is a very powerful image. When I was still living in Christchurch last year, it felt very dark and bleak in the middle of winter and I wrote the song ‘Let there be light’ as a song of hope and encouraging us to move beyond the despair. That became the overall theme of the album ‘From Dust to Light’ but also the subtheme of reviving old knowledge and breathing life into it and bringing it into the present.

Tell us about your job at the Alexander Turnbull Library? What are your favourite parts of your job?
I work in the Arrangement and Description team which is largely a ‘backroom’ kind of activity describing what is in the unpublished collections. We receive collections from donations or purchase and usually need to re-house them into acid-free folders etc and make new records and descriptions for them. I specialise in Māori collections, and really love it. I am working on a new collection of James Cowan papers at present. He was a writer in the first half of the 20th century, and did a lot of writing about Māori culture and NZ history. He even interviewed my Great-Grandfather Teone Taare Tikao. There is a waiata on my new album inspired by a story that our Poua gave to Cowan.

Do you have any up-coming Wellington gigs we can get along to? Where can we find out more?
I will be performing again in Wellington in February (or possibly before then). Eva Street Studio, 2 Eva Street, Wellington on Saturday February 16 2013.  People can keep an eye on my website for details. www.arianatikao.com

While Ariana’s From Dust to Light hasn’t hit the library shelves yet, we do have a previous album, Tuia, for you to enjoy. You can reserve it here!

MI0002035926 Tuia / Ariana Tikao.

We also have the book Tikao Talks, which contains stories from Ariana’s great-grandfather, Teone Taare Tikao. Ariana says the stories are a great source of inspiration for her, and that some of the waiata on her Tuia album are directly inspired by the book.

Tikao talks : ka taoko tapu o te ao kohatu : treasures from the ancient world of the Maori / told by Teone Taare Tikao to Herries Beattie.
Contains many traditions and beliefs never before recorded. As an old man, Teone Taare Tikao passed on to the author knowledge which he had gained as a young man from the old people. (adapted from Smithsbookshop.co.nz)

Another book which has inspired waiata for Ariana is Māori folk-tales of the Port Hills, Canterbury, New Zealand by James Cowan. A story and some lyrics in the book inspired her song Titi Whakatai Arorua, which features on her new album From Dust to Light. Ariana says she loves “bringing old korero to light so they can help form our identity now, and into the future.”

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Photos courtesy of Françoise Padellec.