The early ‘90s were an important time in New Zealand fashion, with an influential Māori and Pacific pride permeating imagery, design and creativity. One song from that time that still feels fresh today in its message - and visuals - is Moana and the Moahunters’ AEIOU, the 1991 classic encouraging us to ‘Akona Te Reo’ or ‘learn the language’.
“My mission was to brainwash Pākehā into pronouncing the vowels correctly and rark Māori up into joining the revolution to reclaim our language,” reflects Moana Maniapoto, who wore an absolutely epic ensemble from Zambesi and Street Life (now Helen Cherry) in the song's music video.
Directed by Kerry Brown and styled by Rosanna Raymond, Moana is joined by bandmates Teremoana Rapley and Minia Ripia and others including Temuera Morrison and MC OJ and Rhythm Slave.
Today the creative icon is the host of current affairs show Te Ao with Moana on Māori TV, and has just released a new song with Moana and the Tribe continuing her legacy of using music for a message.
TŌKU REO features guest vocals from Inka Mbing of the Atayal tribe, one of 16 indigenous tribe in Taiwan, and is about honouring the importance of all native languages and keeping them alive.
As we come to the close of Te Wiki o te Reo Māori [Māori Language Week], Moana reflects on her earlier song’s influence, te reo and style.
This week has been Te Wiki o te Reo Māori. What does that mean to you?
Every Week is Māori Language Week ‘cos I speak only Māori to my daughter. But she’s getting quite flash now. So I started the year off intending to Pimp My Reo. And then there was Covid and I got real busy keeping our current affairs show running from the front deck of my home. Lost my mojo. But I announced to bub today I’m going back in…again.
Tell me about AEIOU - what was the message and purpose of the song?
Blatant propaganda. My mission was to brainwash Pākehā into pronouncing the vowels correctly and rark Māori up into joining the revolution to reclaim our language. “It’s a global thing!” The song began as a radio jingle written by Mina Ripia. Teremoana and I wrote verses around it. It was a call to action…with beats. Stuart Pearce was so damn good as a producer.
What are your feelings towards it looking back on it today?
The same excitement as when we were actually recording and filming it. Nothing like it. We knew we were doing something totally new in dance music. Music video packed full of Māori was rad back then. Only Dalvanius Prime had pulled that off a decade before.
The idea of encouraging young Māori to embrace their culture and learn te reo is obviously still extremely relevant. What changes have you seen around this, and the learning of and use of te reo?
When my toddler spoke Māori 25 years ago, people would stop and stare. If someone actually spoke Māori to him in Māori away from kohanga, marae or home, he was gobsmacked. Now with my daughter, she’s less self-conscious about it. More Pākehā are learning Māori and using phrases and greetings; they’re conscious of pronunciation so the environment is way more conducive. Having said that, there’s still a big struggle in our schools to find te reo teachers and it’s far from normalised in daily life.
The video is extremely cool, still. What are your memories of creating it - and the creative discussions beforehand about the look and feel?
It was very collaborative. Kerry Brown, Rosanna Raymond and I really wanted to really mix it up. My kaupapa was to use dance music to make the message about language attractive and accessible so that needed to be translated onto film. I had Temuera and Richard Morrison on taiaha while St Stephen's College are in full haka mode. Then we pulled all our mates into it, even dad who was in Auckland at a test match. We filmed in Rosanna and Kerry’s carpark (with a huge green screen behind us), in their bedroom, up in Albert Park and then shot out to St Stephen’s College.
The funny thing is our editor William Roberts, who is even in the video – he’s one of my editors on my current affairs show now. Kerry showed me the kinds of kowhaiwhai patterns he wanted to use and animate. That was pretty awesome mahi back in the day.
What can you recall about your ensemble in the video? Are there any other fashion connections worth noting?
Rosanna the style queen styled us up in Zambesi and Street Life (which morphed into Helen Cherry). I’ve been a big fan of both since then. I wore my own vintage Zambesi on the catwalk last year during NZ Fashion Week retro show. And I wore Zambesi in my last music video TŪ. I wear a lot of Helen Cherry and Zambesi on my current affairs show.
Kerry Brown helped shape a lot of the visuals of that time with his work in fashion and music - including AEIOU, Workshop campaigns, In the Neighbourhood etc. What did you like about his work, and working with him?
Very creative and arty. I think he had fun because I gave him access to another world; a palate of images, haka, movement, design that he was itching to play with. And I loved how he could put a contemporary spin on these beautiful old taonga. He reinterpreted images, made them come alive. I ended up doing four music videos with him and we pulled out all the stops.
This last year I’ve been working on new music videos with director Vinnie Carter, and I’m like “Vinnie, you have to do all the heavy lifting here. I’m out of ideas. Anything Māori that you can think of? I’ve piled it into my earlier videos. Haka groups, marae, waka, moko, archival images, paintings….been there, done that.” Vinnie is such an awesome young director. Very quick and creative. Makes me look half decent.
The early '90s were a really interesting, influential and important time in NZ fashion, with a lot of Māori and Pacific pride which translated into the imagery, design, people and media. What are your memories of this time?
Māori were trying to raise our visibility in boardrooms, government ministries and in media. Art and fashion – culture – was such an obvious tool to use. Onstage and in music videos, I used fashion and art to make a point. Fashion was like an exclamation mark. “I’m Māori. And just so you’re clear, I’m rocking this dress, jewellery, hair etc.”
You were on the cover of a 1993 issue of Planet, which my husband shared on Instagram a while ago. What can you remember from that shoot?
The office was on K’Rd, I was wearing a tie dyed sweatshirt given to me by Charles Neville (Neville Brothers), my hair was in braids and I put lipstick on. Now I put a bit more effort into it. I really loved that shot. It’s so natural and quirky.
You have always been naturally stylish. Are you still interested in fashion and the idea of self-expression through clothing? How would you describe your style today?
That’s funny ‘cos I made a worst dressed list once. I’ve lost weight in the last year so coupled with that (and having a flash wardrobe stylist at Māori TV, Caprice Kerrison) my style has changed. Onstage with my band, I love flowing clothing and I always wear NZ designers. Zambesi, NomD, Moochi and TK. Caprice has nudged me into suits and jackets which I never wore.
If anything, black is my colour and big silver hoop earrings are my thing - Sade flash-back. And I love statement, very Māori and Pacific jewellery. You can keep your diamonds, I’m mother-of-pearl gal. I like big chunky boots not spindly heels. Not sure if I have a style.
Tell me about your new song TŌKU REO, with your video where you wear a piece from local brand TK.
Sarah Murphy is a stylist and took me to TK when I needed clothes for a couple of awards last year. Turet is as lovely as her clothes. I’ve worn her garments lots on my show and this blue jumpsuit rocks so chose it for our new music video. TŌKU REO is a tribute to te reo.
Scotty Morrison (who chants on it) wrote the lyrics, Paddy Free (Pitch Black) produced it. Inka Mbing is from the Atayal tribe in Taiwan and my guest vocalist. My friends in Taiwan introduced me and Paddy to her. They drove us up in the mountains outside Taipei where we recorded her vocals in her home. Tobie Openshaw and Sean Kaiteri returned later to film parts of the music video up there. The undermining of and challenge to reclaim indigenous languages in Taiwan is a shared experience – and our passion for the reo comes through in this song.
We love your show Te Ao with Moana. What’s been your highlight from doing this?
Having the freedom to do whatever we like as a team of reporters and producers is very special. Having a platform is such an incredible privilege and we are all committed to using it to illuminate issues or show the human impact of issues on real people’s lives or try and understand someone else’s point of view. I’m loving working with my son and watching him morph into a really good producer. I’ve met some lovely people from all walks of life from cops to crims - that I’ve stayed in contact with.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Don’t forget to watch Māori Television at 8pm on Monday [September 21] when we screen a story about the new Criminal Cases Review Commission. I speak with two of the most high profiled men in NZ criminal history - Teina Pora and David Tamihere. It’s the first time both men have sat down together to be interviewed.
WATCH: TŌKU REO by Moana and the Tribe featuring Inka Mbing: