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Lasting Legacy - Dame Hinewehi Mohi's Hall Of Fame Honour

19 May 2024

The biggest honour of NZ Music Month has seen another fitting accolade handed to a game-changing performer and advocate. She explains the impact of a pioneering musical career.

Some musicians make music, others make history.

The latest inductee to the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame, Dame Hinewehi Mohi, belongs in such esteemed company for her musical talents alone. But you can easily argue the difference she's made to the industry as a leader, advocate and role model is Hall of Fame worthy in itself.

Both those intertwining careers of barrier-defying brilliance will be celebrated as Dame Hinewehi is officially inducted at the 2024 Aotearoa Music Awards at the end of the month.

It's been 25 years since Oceania made ripples around the world, as well as the moment that this fearless performer infamously rewrote the rulebook by having the audacity to sing the Māori version of our national anthem before an All Blacks match - at the English fortress of Twickenham no less. 

Dame Hinewehi has done as much as anyone - if not more - to advance the use of te reo in our musical landscape.

“I always loved to perform. I love that reaction you get from the audience. It’s a physical, emotional kind of connection you have with people when you perform, and our kapa haka teacher at (Napier's) St Joseph’s – and now Principal – Dame Georgina Kingi, always emphasised the importance of representing your best self, and expressing the culture with pride and dignity.

“I think being able to connect with New Zealanders and to help them to find a place where they are comfortable and proud about singing along to a waiata and being part of our rich cultural heritage, has been the most exciting aspect of my musical career. I love sharing with others, it makes it meaningful and we see how the power of music really works.”

While she found herself at the forefront of the evolution of Aotearoa's musical landscape, it took some time for Dame Hinewehi to connect the dots to open that career path.

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Hinewehi Mohi in 1999, promoting her iconic Oceania album. Photo: Supplied.

“I didn’t really consider myself a songwriter until I was working at Aotearoa Radio. I was a talkback producer in the evenings, so there was lots of discussion around the challenge for language reclamation and political issues which created good fodder for songwriting. 

"I’d write down my thinking, then ask the Reverend Hone Kaa to translate those ideas, and then I’d put a tune to them and record them. Those were my first recordings – on a cassingle! – in 1992, which is when I first became a member of APRA AMCOS and RIANZ (now Recorded Music NZ).

“I was doing this stuff with music, but it was always just a hobby – which I think is what a lot of people do, because it’s difficult to make a living out of music. I continued to work in television and carry on that storytelling through broadcasting, at a time when linear television was our only source of video content. A lot has changed."

The Waiata revolution

When it comes to normalising the use of te reo Māori in mainstream music, much of that change has been driven by Dame Hinewehi herself.

Her work with APRA AMCOS as Manukura Puoro Māori in promoting a bilingual music industry has been unrelenting and has made a remarkable difference, most notably with the Waita/Anthems movement, which is into its 5th year.

The first Waiata/Anthems album in 2019 wasn't just groundbreaking, it was immensely successful. It debuted at the top of the Official NZ Music Charts, spending 27 weeks in the Top 40, as well as 115 weeks on the NZTop20 Album chart. It was the sixth best-selling NZ album of 2019 and tenth best-selling NZ album of 2020.

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Dame Hinewehi Mohi. Photo: Jane Ussher.

“I’d had this idea to translate much loved songs into Māori, with the artists singing them. I’ve never stopped thinking about music, and how it connects us, even though I was working in TV and digital content production, making programmes about waiata, and continuing that side of what I loved in my production work.

“It was an honour to work alongside Sir Tīmoti Kāretu who translated the songs, before I reworked the Māori lyrics to the existing melodies. It also started the most incredible journey, working with the artists – most of them who’d never sung in Māori before. 

"I completely underestimated what an impact it would have for them personally, being reconnected to their language, their culture, and whakapapa in this way. For many, it was life-changing and I feel so privileged to have been a part of it." 

Universal Music head Adam Holt - with whom a conversation at the 2018 NZ Music Awards sparked Waiata/Anthems into life - states “Hinewehi is one of the most insightful, influential and passionate people I have ever met. Her vision is inspirational and her energy is infectious. 

"Throughout her career, Hinewehi has shown us what’s possible and reminded us to never stop dreaming big and keep fighting for what is right. 

"It’s Hinewehi’s leadership that has illuminated the path for us to follow.”

From her time as a contemporary of icons like fellow Hall of Famer Moana Maniapoto and the legendary Dalvanius Prime in the 80s and 90s - to a mentor and advocate for the current generation, Dame Hinewehi's never been far from the action.

“It’s amazing to see how music can get those messages across,” she emphasises. 

“With a whole lot of combined effort through education, and broadcasting, and also through music. There’s been a groundswell of support for the language, and people wanting to learn it, to get a better understanding of the culture, and te ao Māori and their place in it."

Music therapy

Dame Hinewehi Mohi performing the National Anthem at the 2022 Women's Rugby World Cup at Eden Park. Photo: Supplied.

The less promoted but equally vital mahi she has achieved for so many families in need is the establishment of the Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre, which is into its 20th year of helping to change the lives of those with disabilities.

Much like her role in the progression of te reo Māori in music, this was driven by a personal connection. Dame Hinewehi’s daughter Hineraukatauri was born with cerebral palsy in 1996, shifting the course of the lives of the whānau.

“When I had my daughter and we knew she was going to be facing significant challenges, Jaz (Coleman, producer) turned me onto music therapy, as well as songwriting – using the Oceania music cathartically – to really get my emotions out there. 

"He shaped a lot of my thinking around creating my own music and using that as a vehicle for expressing emotion.”

Dame Hinewehi is currently working with Raukatauri Music Therapy Trust to reclaim the world’s largest haka (4028 people) from France, at an event at Eden Park on 29 September.

Much like everything else she's set her mind to, it's hard to imagine it being anything other than a runaway success.

NZ Music Hall of Fame

Dame Hinewehi Mohi's upcoming induction will see her join some of her peers in a list of musical luminaries.

2023 - Don McGlashan  
2022 - Ngoi Pēwhairangi & Tuini Ngāwai  
2021 - Kim Willoughby, Margaret Urlich, Annie Crummer, Dianne Swann, Debbie Harwood (When the Cat's Away) 
2020 - Larry's Rebels, Johnny Cooper, Peter Posa, Dinah Lee, Max Merritt, The Chicks 
2019 - Th'Dudes, Ruru Karaitiana, Pixie Williams & Jim Carter  
2018 - Jenny Morris & Upper Hutt Posse 
2017 - Sharon O'Neill  & The Clean
2016 - Bic Runga & Moana Maniapoto
2015 - Bill Sevesi & The Exponents
2014 - Douglas Lilburn & Supergroove
2013 - Shona Laing & Dave Dobbyn
2012 - Toy Love & Herbs
2011 - Dragon & Hello Sailor
2010 - Shihad & The Fourmyula
2009 - Ray Columbus & The Invaders, Richard Nunns & Hirini Melbourne
2008 - Straitjacket Fits & The Topp Twins 
2007 - Johnny Devlin & Jordan Luck