Live Music Review: Modern Maori Quartet

by Frances Morton / 05 October, 2013

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Modern Maori Quartet

Galatos

October 4, 2013

Maaka Pohatu strums a guitar and sings the opening bars to The Carpenters’ ballad of lost love, ‘Superstar’. I’ve never heard a guy's voice ring out so clear and sweet. It was an enchanting moment beneath the kitschy sequined curtains for the crowd seated around cabaret style tables at Galatos.

Pohatu and his bandmates, Matariki Whatarau, James Tito and Matu Ngaropo, are all trained actors who got together to make their own show flaunting their fantastic singing voices. The quartet has its roots in the popular Maori showbands of the 50s and 60s. Sharp suits, skinny ties, brill cream – check. The hammy opening had me worried the whole act was careering dangerously close to retrograde – all cheesy jazzed up kapa haka. However, with the helping hand of industry luminaries director Rachel House and musical director Tama Waipara, the Modern Maori Quartet have put together a theatrical work that’s far more layered than a throwback singalong.

Each of the foursome play a character from a different time period, giving them a backstory to explore and heft to the songs. The characters are bizarrely bound by death. Stuck in limbo, they are forced to perform together before a benevolent voice from the gods (Carol Hirschfeld) will permit them to continue their immortal journey to Hawaiki. The repertoire covers a wide array from traditional Maori tunes to popular classics from throughout the ages, all delivered with Nancy Wijohn’s adroit choreography straddling barbershop and kapa haka moves. One particular highlight is a sparring medley between Tito throwing down well-known rock n roll numbers, such as ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and ‘Tooti Frutti’, then the other three seamlessly piping in with a harmonised waiata to match. It’s hilarious and also demonstrates the power and importance of Te Reo in the performance.

The Modern Maori Quartet radiate good times. (Oh, to find yourself at a party with a couple of guitars and these guys belting out songs.) There’s no doubt this quartet can entertain with song and dance but this show delves deeper weaving heritage, language and history into its feel-good vibe.

Until October 9. 

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