Thu, Jun 1, 2023 5:05 AM

Waiata on tour in Wales


Sigrid Christiansen

Newly famous te reo-focused post-punk band Half/Time is back from their first overseas tour, to England and Wales/Cymru.

The tour, in early May, allowed the band to share waiata and support cultural and language exchange. Their story went viral in the world press, including newspapers like Britain’s The Guardian and BBC TV and radio.

King Country News spoke to performer and songwriter Wairehu Grant, also a Waikato PhD student, about the band’s tour, music and language revitalisation goals.

The tour started in Wrecsam, where they played the Focus Wales festival before travelling “from top to bottom” through Cymru.

In some towns, hitting the pubs in the evenings, they found that most of the conversations they overheard were in Cymraeg, or Welsh.

Many locals they encountered appreciated the opportunity to learn about the band’s message – a history lesson through waiata.

“We basically just did every song we know, of our own. It was interesting connecting with people after the sets because some people would ask about [the waiata].”

Half/Time’s songs introduce listeners to history they might otherwise have known little about, Wairehu said.

“I remember introducing the song Ōrākau at a show … just after the settlement had gone through.” Wairehu explained to the audience that the Maniapoto settlement and Government apology had taken many years.

That history is anything but abstract for Half/Time.

One of Wairehu’s tūpuna was Te Huia Raureti, “right hand man” of Rewi Maniapoto, according to historians.

“He was one of the people that led survivors away … along the Pūnui River. He took a musket round to the eye.”

The song was “a dedication to all those people,” he said.

More broadly, the tour supported language revitalisation in each of the two countries, according Waikato professor Gareth Schott, Wairehu’s PhD supervisor.

He grew up in Wales and attended Welsh-medium education from an English-speaking family. He struggled with the language in school, until punk brought it to life for him.

“The Welsh language is very poetic so it’s a bit hard to squeeze it into a punk song, so a lot of the bands were using Welsh mixed with English, kind of mashing them together.

“It was empowering to hear people who weren’t using perfect Welsh singing it. The music and the culture made the language more accessible to me.”

Punk was a natural fit with language revitalisation, he said.

Māori punk served a similar function to Welsh punk in the late 80s early 90s, bringing the language to music and people that might not connect with it through mainstream pop music, Gareth said.

Wairehu has close connections to Te Rohe Pōtae.

His Maniapoto whakapapa includes great-grandparents Reuben and Phyllis Te Huia, who lived in Kāwhia. During his childhood, his family lived on their property in a house bus.

Now based in Kirikiriroa Hamilton, he grew up around Pirongia where his father was a shearer around the area’s farms.

Belying that rural upbringing, Wairehu grew up focused on creative and intellectual life.

He said he never related to the stereotypes usually applied to young Māori, such as being good at sport.

“I was the dweeb of the family. I was the uncoordinated one who lived in the library.

“I liked to read, and I liked making art.”

Twenty years later the songwriting in Half/Time reflects that love of cultural pursuits.

After starting as a solo act, Half/Time now includes musicians Ciara Bernstein and Cee (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Kahu ki Whangaroa); Wairehu said touring on his own had started to feel “soul destroying.”

King Country News
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