Fundraising effort for struggling Kiwi singers in London begins

A massive fundraising effort launches on Sunday night for professional Kiwi singers living in London who are on the verge of going broke. 

They've put together an online concert called 'Voices of Aotearoa' which has been filmed at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall. 

The venue holds a special place for London's Māori club, Ngāti Rānana.

At the heart of the group is founder Esther Jessop, 85, the very reason the club exists today. 

Jessop created the club in 1958, with its first performance at the Royal Albert Hall.

"The wairua, the spirit is here and I can feel the wairua of that time, all our mates," Jessop says.

Sixty-two years later, she's back where it all began, reminiscing about the club's humble beginnings.

"It all started from there. Get a few Māori together with a guitar and you're away, and it carried on from there and the group got bigger and bigger," Jessop says.

The latest performance is part of an online fundraising concert which features performances by 23 other Kiwi professional singers who've lost their livelihoods due to COVID-19.

They had planned to record the concert in the Royal Albert Hall's main chamber - but it's undergoing renovations. 

But they did manage to sneak in one quick song before making do with one of the venue's smaller rehearsal spaces.

The concert's been professionally produced and while it's free to watch, donations are appreciated.

"We have a donations page and we need to somehow get by, so every little bit helps," opera singer Madeleine Pierard says.

Pierard has made a living as a soprano opera star for 15 years, but all her jobs this year and next have been cancelled.

"I'm just not ready to give it up. It's too much a part of me, it's too much sacrifice, it's too long away from my family and I'm too young to retire," Pierard says.

She's organised the concert with fellow opera singer Julien Van Mellaerts, and they've called it 'Whānau - Voices of Aotearoa', because they're all missing home.

"Homesick doesn't even come close to how we feel. We're so isolated, we're completely left out on our own financially. We are really struggling," Mellaerts says.

The Kiwis who have spent years on the world stage are now grateful to have any stage at all.