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Māori Language Week: Reti Hedley using music to express his Māori culture

Riria Dalton-Reedy

Reti Hedley is using music to express his cultural pride but admits it hasn’t always been that way.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Despite his upbringing in te ao Māori (the Māori world), Hedley explains he wasn’t always bold in his approach to those kaupapa (concepts) in his music.

“I felt sometimes I wasn’t very open and confident in being myself, so I would move through musical spaces not openly speaking te reo” he said.

“I wouldn’t compose in a Māori context or suggest ideas with a Māori lens, instead I would just participate in my second language of English.”

Hedley (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Rāhiri) is part of IA’s three-piece band - best known for their trademark fusion of tāonga pūoro (traditional Māori instruments) and electronic music.

The seed that was planted many years ago has seen his love for tāonga pūoro and mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) come to fruition through the group’s music.

“I was determined to write music committed to using tāonga pūoro in a meaningful way that highlighted their melodies and tonalities”.

IA have produced a track for this year’s Waiata Anthems album.

Established in 2019, Waiata Anthems is a movement where Aotearoa’s biggest stars translate and recreate their hit songs in te reo Māori, encouraging the revitalisation of the language through waiata (song).

“[Waiata Anthems] is an amazing platform to celebrate and promote Māori music. It’s an honour to be part of this movement again alongside other talented artists and bands,” he says.

The likes of Katchafire, Che Fu, Lorde and Bic Runga have all featured in previous campaigns. Twenty-seven waiata will feature in this year’s release.

IA’s latest waiata, ME, has a modern hip hop feel to it, with strong elements of their ‘indigenous soul flavour’.

“It’s really about how my reo adorns me with a sense of beauty as well as a sense of pride”.

Hedley says his traditional nose flute “Moeroro” is the primary inspiration for this waiata.

The tāonga is named after Hedley’s ancestor, Moeroro, who is said to have reached out to his daughter through “spiritual channels” when he was injured in battle.

“The story is encapsulated in a metaphor written by my sister Ruth Smith, which is like the voice that comes to me in my dreams”.

He hopes this song will “awaken all of us in Aotearoa” and encourage those on their reo journey.

“It can be a daunting journey and all these feelings get in the way of whānau learning and pursuing [their reo]”.

Hedley says he felt “whakamā” (ashamed) about using his reo in mainstream musical spaces.

“I know what it’s like to have my reo but not feel like was appropriate for the scene”.

He says the culture within the music industry itself contributes to this stigma.

“Twenty years ago, the scene was just very different. Seldom did you hear the word ‘kia ora’.

Hedley recalls the lightbulb moment when this perspective shifted.

He was working with artist Matutaera Herangi. Despite their fluency in te reo Māori, neither of them spoke the language to one another.

“We knew we had our reo but it was just never really used because of those contexts,” he says.

It wasn’t until they were in a Māori context that the reo began to flow again.

“At my mother’s tangi (funeral), te reo was in full flight. That’s all we really spoke and it just never stopped,

“As we allowed our language to shine, people around us would unconsciously shine with us”.

Hedley highlights the importance of te reo Maori in this day and age.

“With your language comes a strong sense of who you are and your identity,” he said.

“We’re here to reclaim our heritage and that’s part of the beauty of indigeneity at this time”.

Waiata Anthems tracks are available to stream online at:

Hero Image:Reti Hedley (right) and IA band member Moetu Smith. Photo / Jason Crane Photography

Image 2: Moetu Smith (left) and Reti Hedley from the band IA. Photo / Jason Crane Photography

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