20 Jun 2017

Composer Charles Royal: 'What's bubbling away inside of you?'

From Upbeat, 1:20 pm on 20 June 2017
Charles Te Ahukaramū Royal

Photo: Illustration by Sara Hindle

As a young man, composer and academic Charles Te Ahukaramū Royal was a serious student of Western classical music who idolised Stravinsky, but something was missing.

Musicians are always looking for their own voice, Royal says, and it took connecting with Māori creativity to find his.

"It's very hard to describe identity crises 'cause you're not conscious of them at the time. These energies kind of bubble up inside you and they become undeniable. At some point, I just had to discover more and learn more about me being a Māori person."

Royal – whose father is Māori and mother is pakeha – "plunged himself" into learning te reo Māori, mōteatea [chanted song-poetry] and indigenous creativity.

Composing music was on the backburner when these research interests took over, but all the while he had in mind what he could do with the knowledge.

"I've always been interested in the creative possibilities or the creative opportunities that exist inside Mātauranga Māori [Māori knowledge or wisdom], inside te reo Māori.

"What I hope I've been able to do is provide some kind of model for others, for younger ones. This is not only about how you critically engage with our culture in a very deep way, but also you can do things with it, you can move it and change it and do stuff.

"An artist is very serious about understanding what is going on for you – What's actually bubbling away inside of you? – and using the cultural tools available to you to make sense of that and to articulate that."

Charles Te Ahukaramū Royal will premiere his work Whitiora with the Manukau Symphony Orchestra on 24 June.