Alien Weaponry, Theia, Troy Kingi on rise of Māori language in music

It's 45 years since Te Wiki o te Reo Māori began promoting Māori language.

In the past year, there's been an explosion in the use of Te Reo and it's all thanks to the very natural partner of the spoken word - music.

Alien Weaponry, a band who have written many of their songs in Te Reo, has proven there's no doubt the language can reach a global audience.

"Some of the festivals we’re playing in Europe and stuff, you know, you see people in the crowd who can't even speak English and they're singing your Māori lyrics word for word," guitarist Lewis de Jong said.

"When you see stuff like that, you kind of think we've done something right."

Since brothers Lewis and Henry de Jong (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Raukawa) and Tūranga Morgan-Edmonds (Ngāti Rārua, Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Hine) started the band as teens, they're chosen to whakapapa back to stories of their ancestors. In acknowledging the past, they've shown other artists a future.

"Seeing the kind of spike of artists now singing in te reo Māori or just Māori history and tikanga into their work, it's really cool to see people being inspired by [it]. I guess it's kind of a movement," Henry said.

Lewis added that people are starting to get back into learning about their own culture and they're starting to incorporate that into music.

"Music is a great way to express a message that might not be able to be expressed just through talking."

"It's such a beautiful language too and it just fits music and everything to do with music so well," Morgan-Edmonds said.

At their Waipū home, the door to the practice room is never closed and there's not a corner of the house where you can't hear or feel their passion.

Lewis said there's strength and mana in their Te Reo lyrics.

"Sometimes I feel like just striking people in the soul and staring them down on stage."

He added that doing this just works better in Te Reo.

"You can't pūkana English words like you can Māori words."

For Em Walker (Waikato-Tainui, Ngāti Tipa), best known as alt-pop artist Theia, a new project called Te Kaahu has given the gifted bilingual kaiwaiata the chance to perform in Te Reo.

Released this week, 'E Taku Huia Kaimanawa' is a heartfelt tribute to her kuia who passed away suddenly four years ago.

"She was the one that really backed my personal endeavours in getting my Te Reo language to that next level and learning the informal and formal aspects and then also music, so I feel like it's the perfect way to honour her," Walker said.

A waiata written in Māori and performed in Māori, it is intricately layered with kupu whakarite or metaphor. A joy of the language she now passes on when teaching Te Reo.

"Just learning respect for the language. If you take the time and care to learn every single vowel, you therefore will have respect for Māori place names and then therefore Māori themselves."

When a host of New Zealand artists came together last year to record Waiata Anthems, an entire album in te reo, it inspired Māori artists to shine.

"When they start seeing these mainstream people and in different genres playing their music in te reo, it makes it easier for them to venture out into that sort of realm without feeling like 'I'm going to be judged'. It's just becoming more acceptable, not as scary," musician Troy Kingi said.

Kingi (Te Arawa, Ngāpuhi, Te Whānau a Apanui) is rerecording his award-winning album Holy Colony, Burning Acres in te reo. The album is inspired by the injustices of colonisation.

"There are just so many levels to it now, you're not just saying words there's like a whole weight behind it now and I think that's what the Māori language is all about," he said.

He hopes that songs in te reo become more mainstream and the norm in the future.

"I just want to hear and it not be 'oh that guy's speaking te reo'. Like, you just hear it and it's 'yeah, we're in Aotearoa'."