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Almost a Goddess - Hinemoana Baker

Hinemoana Baker - photo by Nicola Easthope
Meg Hunter - photo by Nicola Easthope
Notes on the recent concert by Hinemoana Baker at Aratoi



Hinemoana Baker – Live @ Aratoi                                                                                                                                        

7 September 2019

Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History, Masterton




Funkhaus – the working title of Hinemoana Baker’s upcoming collection.  ‘Funk’ as in funk, and also ‘broadcast’ in German, as the ‘haus’ in Berlin where the poet-singer-songwriter once lived, or squatted, had been a GDR radio station.  A saxophonist was also there, and Hinemoana would be sleepless in her tiny cubicle.  Born in 1968, Hinemoana says she’s too old to live like that, but I don’t see her living any other way. She lives and dives at once. Follows the river out to sea. Hinemoana. Woman of the Ocean.


I swallow / the volume of a lagoon

The hall within the museum felt like a ship - we floated, rocked, and were lulled, with amounts of awe, to Hinemoana’s sound, poem, story, song, waiata, in Te Reo, Deutsch, English, about Ihumātao and Trump… Berlin Mitte and the wide sands of Karekare… her mother and a rare rugby game attended with her father…  “I swallow / the volume of a lagoon - Ich schlucke das Ausmaß  / einer Lagune” and we all welcomed the encore.


Near, Far, Irregular

The ‘Live at Aratoi’ show was Hinemoana’s only performance in Aotearoa in 2019, and poets and others came from near and far.  Poets love the irregular, the odd juxtaposition, and how many knew that the concert hall – a decommissioned church – once stood at the site of the only McDonald’s in Masterton, voted New Zealand’s most beautiful city in 2017.


The end of Donald

‘I’ll not forget the way his head fell soft to the left’ opens her poem about the end of the man with the ‘sprouting orange stubble’.  “I took a picture in my mind, the way you do / when you forget to bring your camera to the zoo.”


The first duty

“The first duty of an artist is to find beauty in everyday life,” said Rita Angus.  Hinemoana puts it this way: “Just look at what we fucking well have. / The pocket the packet the postcard the purse / not the hanged man and the constant lightning strike / look at what we have look on it and be grateful.” Over the weekend of hosting Hinemoana, her love was evident: for a sprig of sage, a hot water bottle, coffee, her writing group, the Maton guitar loaned to her for the gig, a friend who taught her how to love, another friend who had just spent time in a forest with 108 men, homemade cider, and when we were driving to the concert hall and passed a funeral on the High Street with a convoy of parked trucks on one side of the road, and a cluster of motorcycles on the other, we also offered aroha.


Pash and other words

Yes. Toi. Near. Bring me sunset in a cup. Resistance of the heart against business as usual. These are some of the words around my home. ‘Pash’ is a favourite four-letter word on Hinemoana’s loved one’s living room wall: ACTIVELY / AND RESPONSIBLY / PASH / THE UNKNOWN, and isn’t this what poetry is, does: through active and responsible writing, we come to kiss the unknown and known. 


Three times

The first time I met Hinemoana: Winter 2010, a standing-room-only gig at the now defunct Ballroom Café in Newtown. Teresia Teiawa launched Hinemoana’s book, koiwi, koiwi, bone, bone and I recall a pink or purple guitar case.  The second performance: December 2013, another standing-room-only show, at Wairarapa Word. Generous, Hinemoana not only performed with brilliance and aroha for a modest payment, but also set up the less-than-perfect sound system for the gig, held in another café, also defunct. The third, at Aratoi, in 2019, with exquisite sound and a discerning crowd: Hinemoana, almost a goddess.


Page and stage

Books. Recordings. Radio shows. CDs. Journals. Anthologies. Workshops. Writer in Residences. Of all the forms and modes of Hinemoana’s art practice, I sense that live performance might be the most freeing for her.  Ninety minutes on stage, no intermission, seemingly no unease.


Be water

Baker. The surname from her father, a former Māori All-Black.  Hinemoana. The name alone almost a poem.  Audience members said the concert at Aratoi was epic, ethereal, stirring, genius. I call the night an ocean, large and complete.


Take Paradise

The concert began with what Hinemoana called a “miracle” – in the form of Meg Hunter, a fourteen-year-old singer-songwriter-pianist from Wairarapa. Meg opened the night with earnestness, accomplishment, and her original songs, and she opened our sense of time: many of us in the hall were three or four or five times her age. She smiled the most, and I smiled the most, to her arrangement of Big Yellow Taxi. Did Meg know that Hinemoana warms her voice up to other Joni Mitchell songs, from the Blue album?



By the time the performance ended, the gear packed up, the CDs and books signed, the borrowed guitar returned, the friends and fellow poets farewelled, the suitcase transferred to the car of another poet friend who would host Hinemoana for the night, and a necessary replenishing meal, it was Sunday morning, the eighth of September, the birthday of her deceased mother. Several of the poems and songs in the gig featured her mother, aunties, whānau, tangata whenua.  “Mother is a north wind and she stops the trembling / Mother has hands of flax and butter… Mother of Language and Mother of Land. / Flaxfuls of seed and a hand in your hand.”



Hinemoana Baker – Waiata mo Te Wairarapa, Saturday 7 September 2019, at Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History. Masterton. The performance was part of the ‘Live @ Aratoi’ series presented by Aratoi and Grafia Productions, with support from Masterton District Council.   The next gig at the museum: We Mavericks Tour with Victoria Vigenser (NZ) and Lindsay Martin (AUS) on 3 November 2019.

Poetry and song interspersed throughout the text by Hinemoana Baker.

German translation by Ulrike Almut Sandig.

Photography by Nicola Easthope

Text by Madeleine Slavick, Poet, Photographer, and Communications Manager, Aratoi. (


Written by

Madeleine Slavick

16 Oct 2019