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Creating In Te Reo Māori "Is Not A Commodity"

12 Sep 2022
Te Wiki O Te Reo Māori 2022 is upon us - and bilingual musician Theia reveals how she ignored the doubters and stood by her belief that the language of her tūpuna deserved the spotlight.

Singer/songwriter Theia (Waikato-Tainui, Ngāti Tīpa) is one of the new generation of musicians putting te reo Māori as a driving force for her mahi.

Her Māori storytelling project TE KAAHU is gathering steam, including her song E Hine Ē being nominated for the APRA Maioha Award at next month’s Silver Scrolls and her acclaimed album Te Kaahu O Rangi released on vinyl this week.

Theia has given The Big Idea her thoughts on how the use of te reo Māori is uplifting her career and what it means to her.


E te tī, e te tā : kua tae mai Te Wiki O Te Reo Māori ki a tātou!

Shout out and never-ending love to my peers who are just trying to survive and thrive in 2022 - on top of trying to reclaim the language and traditions literally beaten out of our grandparents.

Those who follow my mahi in music will know I released an album this year, Te Kaahu O Rangi, as part of my reo rangatira project TE KAAHU.

I’ve been so blown away by the response. I feel honoured that this kohinga waiata has been able to aid in some of your healing. Because for me, that’s what TE KAAHU has always been about - to heal, restore and empower my people. 

I was lucky to grow up with a grandmother, Rangirara, who instilled in me the importance of knowing where I was from. My marae, haukāinga and the legacy of my great grandmother, Mite, who fought so fiercely for her mita o Waikato, and for her awa.

Rangirara also shaped my love for the Māori classics. Some of my most cherished memories are of us driving round the streets of Wainoni and Eastgate blasting Dennis Marsh, Prince Tui Teka and our beloved Taniwharau Kapahaka singing Kiwi Weka (my great grandmother’s most famous composition). 

It is therefore by design that my own compositions in te reo rangatira as TE KAAHU embrace my Waikato dialect and tell stories of my maunga, awa, even Te Ua Haumēne and Pai Maarire - the faith he established as a way of resisting colonisation and land confiscation.

Record executives will tell you it’s a mistake to make music this niche. One is only relevant when you are played on mainstream radio; when your Spotify streams are in the millions; when you are selling out arenas.

To them I politely say, ō hamuti!

This music is not a commodity. For me, it is a vehicle for upholding my whakapapa and mātauranga. It is a resource; a taonga tuku iho for my people and for future generations. If it reaches beyond my hapū and into the wider world, then all the better.

I am constantly moved by the messages I receive from people all around the world telling me that they are touched by the waiata of TE KAAHU and its Kaupapa - but most importantly, from other rangatahi Māori in their reconnection journeys.

Presently, I’m writing this as I return from Bigsound in Brisbane where I performed waiata entirely in reo Māori to rooms full of music industry people from all over the world. To me, this is the power of music. And to see people standing in silence listening to songs they can’t understand, but are still clearly connecting with, proves just how exquisitely beautiful and emotive our language is.

I think back now to those people who told me I would get nowhere pursuing my BA Double Major in Te Reo Rangatira and Māori & Indigenous Studies.

Also it hasn’t escaped me that there is a window of opportunity right now to profit off the revitalisation of te reo Māori in music. But if there is a stage open to me - I’m going to take it and spread the message of mana Māori! I know my nannies are smiling down at their mokopuna telling their stories in our language to a room of non-Māori.

It’s a fitting way to lead back to Te Wiki O Te Reo Māori.

If you follow me on socials, you’ll know how I feel about it. Āe rā, it’s an important week to champion our reo, but it’s even more important that we embrace our language all year round with the same fervour!

To my Māori peers: no matter where you are in your journey, poho kererū ana ō tupuna ki a koe, you are smashing it.

To my pākehā peers, keep hiring me to teach in your organisations - I hope you are being equipped to stop just ticking boxes and that you are on your own journey to becoming a better ally. Also a cheeky side note - your payment to me as your tutor is literally how I paid for this record!

To the industry ‘fat cats’ scrambling to make some cash from this golden moment of waiata Māori; better late than never. But, may I firmly remind you that our people have been making bangers since the dawn of time and may I suggest you book yourself in for some reo and tikanga lessons. 

My final words are reserved for my tūpuna wāhine who inspire all that I do. Thank you for the legacy you leave and all I wish is to do you proud. 

Nāku iti nei,

Nā Theia xx


TE KAAHU and band will perform at The Yard in Raglan on 8 October and at the Māoriland Hub in Ōtaki on 12 November.