An Interview with Karl Teariki

Kia ora and welcome to the second interview in our series of interviews with local Māori musicians. Here we have an interview with local musician Karl Teariki, helping us to celebrate NZ music month by telling us all about his sweet sounds!

karl grfx

Would you like to introduce yourself?
I am from the tribe of Ngāti Kahungunu, Te Waka o Takitimu, growing up on my ancestral land known to our family as Maunga Kōhatu, but known these days as ‘Royshill’, Highway 50, 15 km south west of Hastings. My marae is Omahu and my hapū is Ngāti Hinemanu. On my father’s side, I also descend from Te Waka o Takitumu in Rarotonga, from the tribe Ngāti Raina with connections to Mauke, Tāhiti and Ra’iatea. Although I have lived in Wellington just over twenty years, I will always be from Heretaunga. The real one, not the one in Upper Hutt. I have worked on many kaupapa Māori albums starting with the iconic band Black Katz led by Ngātai Huata when I was 12 playing cello on the track Mahinaarangi.

What’s your musical background? What instruments do you play?
I first started on guitar when my Mum was getting classical guitar lessons from a well-known Hastings musician, the late James Baker, who was a session player from England, a lovely man and a great teacher. I used to sit in on her lessons after school when I was 6 years old, and I think I just soaked it up like a sponge as kids do. I started playing the pieces my Mum has learned by ear, and she taught me what she had learned. She says she stopped teaching me when I got better than her. A few years later I also learned classical cello from my teacher Alison Hansen, as well as continuing on guitar with Mr Baker, and later at high school with Dave Boston. When I was 15, guitar was definitely cooler, so I put the cello away and transferred what I had learned on the cello to electric guitar. Music has always been a creative outlet for me as has art and ‘The art of Tutu’, my number one passion. Tutu means basically to learn and explore through experimentation.

karl hill small

In what ways have you drawn on your Māori lineage for inspiration for your music?
I have always drawn on my heritage when it comes to composing, from my first release at the age of 17 with a grant from Puatatangi. It was called He Taonga, and combined what I had learned on classical guitar, and my mum and dad also performed on the title track He Taonga. My favourite track from that release was Whakakāhu, which means ‘to assume the form of a hawk’, and combined orchestral elements I composed and were performed on keyboard by my cousin Traci Tuimaseve. I am interested in using the thought processes and concepts handed down from the ancestors and translating those into modern genres for people to enjoy. That was the concept behind the release of PAO, which featured my sons Tangaroa and Te Manea. It was a 5 track EP made with funding from Te Mangai Paho. On that EP I created some Whakatauki, (Maori proverbs) that reflect how the ancestors formed thoughts from observing nature. For example, in the song Ko Te Reo (The Language),

Iti nei, iti nei,
ka hangaia e te manu
tōna kohanga.

Iti nei, iti nei,
ka tipu te pī,
ki te manu tīoriori.

Little by little,
the bird builds
their nest.

Little by little,
the fledgeling grows
into a beautiful songbird.

The thing with whakatauki is they can relate to many things, depending on how they are examined. This one could relate to learning or goal setting; a bird building its nest from little things. Learning is the same, each small thing learned is an achievement that build towards a bigger outcome. I guess themes in my work are to do with my heritage, and how that fits into the modern world. 

Where do you feel Māori music is at now?
I feel that Māori music is continually growing and evolving, depending on the generation that is carrying it. Each generation has its own preferences and tastes, like the word whakapapa which translates to genealogy. It literally means, ‘to become a layer’; each layer / generation has its responsibility to those before and after it.

What do you enjoy most about performing? Anything you don’t enjoy about it?
What I enjoy most about performing my music is to leave a thought or feeling with someone that they did not have previously. An idea can be shared with someone, without losing it.

Who are some of your favourite musicians? Is there anyone you look to for musical inspiration?
I have many favourites but for me it’s about how that piece of music can make me feel, regardless of the composer or genre. I appreciate music that is crafted, but then a three chord song can tell amazing stories. I prefer a music ‘smorgasbord’ over ‘a la carte’ if that makes sense.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently working towards the second release from PAO, again featuring the vocals of my sons who will be 14 and 16 when we are finished. A couple of the songs are in English with the rest in Māori. They cover many themes from losing loved ones, returning home, heritage, heartbreak, tutu, and also covers a few favourite songs, including AEIOU written by Wī te Tau Huata in the 1950’s and sung by many a primary school student across the country.


If you could listen to just one song forever, what would it be?
That would probably be a song called Nemesis, by a group named Shriekback released in 1985. I like its weirdness and strangeness.

Are there any songs you’d like to cover?
I’d love to cover the following songs from a Polynesian / Māori perspective: UK black – Soul II Soul, Exodus – Bob Marley, Sing our own song – UB40. There are also many beautiful Māori songs I would love to cover one day.

Do you have any up-coming Wellington gigs we can get along to? Where can we find out more?
Get a free download:
PAO on soundcloud.

Karl Teariki on soundcloud.