New album and a kōrero with local Māori songbird


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.

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

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.”



Photos courtesy of Françoise Padellec.

Stewart Island Artist Residency


This was my second trip to Mason Bay as part of 2011 DOC/CNZ Wild Creations Artists Residency. This time I concentrated on making. Here are some examples of what I made.

For this karanga manu I used the tuwiri drill to fashion the cup and for the relief carving I used metal scrapers and some nails I found in the workshop. The original is in Otago Museum and is rather famous.

The porutu is a longer open end cross blown instrument and is very much an instrument used in Murihiku. Here are two made from tutu and one from albatross wing bone.

The putorino is mentioned in Traditional Lifeways of the Southern Maori J.H. Beattie by his informants. Here is one made from tutu rakau in a northern style.

Tokere are played by putting the pikao loops go over the fingers and playing in a similar way to castenets. These shells are from the mouth of Martin Creek and the pikao is from Big Sandhill behind Hill Homestead

Here is a link to my taonga puoro blog  with extra content.

I was playing porutu to a tui when half a dozen bellbirds turned up and had a sing along. Listen here


Wild creations artists’ residency: trip report

I recently spent a few weeks on Rakiura/Stewart Island as part of a  six week residency which will be spent researching southern Maori musical instrument possibilities, gathering materials, making instruments and then recording them on location around Rakiura. I will also be making reconstructions of Maori musical instruments found in museum collections that have providence from Murihiku (Otago), Ruaumogo (Fiordland) and Rakiura.

My first day on Stewart Island was spent at Oban where I took a trip out to Ulva Island bird sanctuary. I found some seaweed pods that can be played as karanga manu (bird callers) and found that the local fantails were pretty interested in the sounds produced.

Next day I flew by helicopter (!) to Hill Homestead at Mason Bay where I was to spend the next 11 days, gathering materials, making instruments and recording.

First on my list of things to do was to make a tuwiri (traditional Maori drill). I found a straight manuka stick and built four cross bars from inanga wood. I used a piece of vine to create a hoop that lies on the cross bar and provides momentum and balance to the tuwiri. I bound these parts together with twine. At first I experimented making pakohe (argillite) drill bits using a grossularite garnet hammer stone, with average success. I had better luck using quartz that I found on a granite outcrop behind Hill Homestead.

I kept on experimenting, drilling some soapstone using the tuwiri, with the aim of making a replica of a karanga manu (bird caller) in Otago Museums’ collection found at Glenorchy near Queenstown. I got some pretty good holes fairly quickly and then shaped the outside of the karanga manu using a flat granite grind stone.

I also made quite a few instruments from found objects, mostly found on the beach. I was lucky enough to find a Mollymawk Albatross from which I made this koauau (flute).

shell-koauau1bAnd these shells play rather well as koauau too.

flax-flower-stem1So does this flax flower stem.

I visited Mason Bay Beach every second day or so to see what had been washed up, and the variety from day to day was note worthy. One day it was mostly wood, the next kelp, another it was birds.

drying-kelp-stipes2aI did some preliminary experiments making instruments with kelp. I have left some koauau and a trumpet experiment to dry over the next month. Hopefully they will give me some results when I return.
I’m off back to Rakiura the first two weeks of April so I will keep you posted what I make next!