There's only one logical choice for the Taite Music Prize winner

by James Belfield / 05 April, 2018
Te Karehana Gardiner-Toi. Photo/Amanda Ratcliffe

Te Karehana Gardiner-Toi. Photo/Amanda Ratcliffe

RelatedArticlesModule - Taite Music Prize

And the winner of the Taite Music Prize should be… Te Karehana Gardiner-Toi, according to music critic James Belfield.

Awards ceremonies are, on the whole, terrible affairs. Behind all the self-congratulatory political posturing, there are rows about selection criteria, inclusivity and fairness – and there always seems to be a gulf between what’s popular and what’s critically acclaimed.

Within hours of the finalists of this year’s Taite Music Prize being announced, the online chatter started. Where was the hip-hop? The electronica? Where were the artists of colour? Where, for heaven’s sake, were Tui winners SWIDT and their crowd-pleasing Stoneyhunga?

And that’s why awards are terrible: they’re not just not inclusive; they’re by definition exclusive. You could clearly trawl your way through the shortlist and find any number of under-represented groups from New Zealand’s multi-ethnic, LGBTQ-rich society.

So, in the spirit of exclusivity, I’m going to forget about weighing all eight entries equally and jump straight in to say the award should go to Teeks for the sheer bravery of his debut EP, The Grapefruit Skies.

In its nine-month existence, this polished nugget of timeless soul and blues has turned Te Karehana Gardiner-Toi’s voice into a regular soundtrack to my daily routine.

To start with, the four beautiful songs, bookended by short a cappella tracks, seemed like an industry showcase – a springboard towards some greater offering. But the way he glides from the personal gospel-soul of Wash Over Me to the she-gone-left-me groove of If Only, the please-give-me-one-more-chance weepy Change and the grief-laden Never Be Apart creates a brief snapshot of pure emotion.

And the impact of the intro and outro lyrics about the “grapefruit skies” of a sunset only add to the EP’s message of life’s fragility and love’s ephemeral nature.

The Northlander has pulled off the difficult trick of being nostalgic without lapsing into pastiche with debut single If Only. It sounds as if it emerged from an early 70s Bill Withers recording session but it is still managing to command serious airtime on pop radio.

For judges wanting to make a point, Gardiner-Toi has plenty in his backstory that would support his winning the $10,000 award on April 17. But purely on songwriting, delivery and the concise artistry of The Grapefruit Skies, he’s a standout in a field that includes Aldous Harding, Nadia Reid, Fazerdaze, The Bads, Grayson Gilmour, Kane Strang, and Mermaidens.

This article was first published in the March 24, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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