Wellington singer Riiki Reid on how she co-wrote a song entirely in Māori

Riiki Reid's te reo journey has led her to co-write a song in Māori.
Riiki Reid's te reo journey has led her to co-write a song in Māori. Photo credit: Nicole Brannen

Wellington singer Riiki Reid has been on quite the journey with her te reo Māori.

As if reinventing herself as an artist from RIIKI to Riiki Reid wasn't enough after bursting onto Aotearoa's music scene in 2019, the Ngāti Porou artist (real name Raquel Abolins-Reid) decided she needed to embrace more of her culture.

While she's been outspoken and open about the internal cultural clash she faced in trying to learn a new language, she's now decided to push it even further - by composing a new song entirely in te reo Māori.

Speaking to Newshub from Melbourne, the bubbly singer is excited about how her first ever waiata composition will be received. 

It came out on Friday, September 1 as part of the Waiata Anthems annual release and saw her collaborating with Muroki to write and record 'Kārewa'.

The song's been described as a heartfelt waiata for those going through a hard time.

That could have applied to Reid, who said the initial process was both "humbling" and "really frustrating" because of her lack of language skills.

"The hardest process is really just actually understanding the diction and pronunciation of what we're trying to say, because we're not fluent te reo Māori speakers. It gets really frustrating. You feel like you're learning to walk for the first time, but by the end of it, it's so rewarding that you're singing in another language and in your own language. It was such a humbling kind of experience to go through and quite an emotional experience," she told Newshub.

Written during a Waiata Anthems songwriting wānanga with mātanga reo (language consultant) Pānia Papa, and industry veterans Dallas Tamaira and Devin Abrams, Reid said the resultant tune has left her feeling nothing short of proud.

"I'm not ashamed that I don't know how to speak Māori or anything, but it's probably just made me, you know, not sad, but just really excited to kind of learn more about the language and challenge myself to learn it. Going through that kind of process of getting frustrated that I don't know what I'm doing and not knowing how to speak this, it's really frustrating to me. But then coming out on the other side of it and being like, 'wow, it's crazy'.

"Now I can sing a whole song about it and it's my own song, you know? So, yeah, it's really cool," she beams.

It's a natural progression of what the Waiata Anthems releases have been doing.

In the past the songs have been re-recorded te reo Māori versions of familiar tunes, but Reid is one of the first to record a single language version rather than the previous bilingual offerings.

"The song is not typically a traditional Māori song. It's just a song that happens to be te reo Māori."

Riiki Reid singing with Muroki on their Waiata Anthem.
Riiki Reid singing with Muroki on their Waiata Anthem. Photo credit: Julie Zhu

"It's great that we've translated the songs into Māori, but then that people have the option to listen to the English - but it's special that this song is what it is and that it's that Māori song. I think that's cool that people can listen to it and there's no alternative English version."

Reid is no shrinking violet when it comes to trying new things or musically expressing herself.

Her first clutch of EPs has seen the singer embrace different genres. From radio airplay dance hit 'The City' to the newly-released ballad 'Home with Me', Reid is on the cusp of garnering a much wider audience.

Over New Zealand's soggy summer, she opened for Lorde as part of the Solar Power tour, something which saw her exposed to a whole new bunch of fans and a way of performance this former dancer and choreographer now has a taste for.

"I haven't experienced anything like it. It's the first time I've ever hopped on a stage and walked off being like, 'Whoa, I feel like I've just gotten a taste' - like what it actually means to be a performer on stage that is really connecting with an audience that is like that, all for the artists and all about the music. 

"Lorde fans are really loyal, like insanely loyal. It's crazy. There were a couple of fans that ended up coming to every show up and they said 'I saw you at the launch show and now I'm coming to every show'. So I think in terms of just broadening, an audience, it's been super cool."

For now, Reid's focused on gigging around Australia and performing her waiata 'Kārewa' for Kiwi audiences.

When Newshub asked if she would be emotionally affected if audiences sang it back to her in te reo Māori, she pauses, her mind opening to wider possibilities.

"I haven't thought about that, but I think that would be crazy. 

"We did a video of a live performance of it for this release, which will be coming out as a documentary next week as well. Even though it wasn't to an audience, just being able to sing it, live with Muroki and he's playing the guitar and we've got like backing vocals, that was really special, you know?

"[So for audiences to sing it back to us] that would be amazing. It's like, now that you've put that in my head, I think it would be crazy, honestly," she smiles.