The NZ Festival Club saw two contrasting but self-assured performances from Māori artists on Saturday night. For those who saw both acts, it made for an affecting and exciting double bill: Teeks and Ria Hall.
Teeks: A Song For You
A warm flush comes over the crowd at the Festival Club as Northland-born soul singer Teeks joins his modest band on stage. The audience clearly know and adore him already, despite his only having five songs recorded, released mid-2017. A festival show this early in a young musician’s career might have been a push for some, but Te Karehana Gardiner-Toi is a natural. This is his first headline show, he’s a little nervous, but grateful that he’s sold the show out. When he says “Let’s just pretend we’re in my living room” it sounds like reassurance for himself.
His voice shows no signs of nerves when he starts his set with his gospel number ‘Wash Over Me’. That resonant bass of his is pure, cavernous and rich, and he’s supported by the band, (backing singer and fellow Pao Pao Pao graduate Sherydon Te Tai, guitarist Abraham Kunin and keys player Nicholas Tilly Dow) whose balance, tone and taste allow Teeks to shine.
His own material only adds up to about twenty minutes, so before long, he’s singing other people’s songs - Eric Clapton’s ‘Layla’, Bob Dylan and Adele’s ‘Make You Feel My Love’ Prince’s ‘How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore’ - Teeks is not shy of singing something we all know. His first language is Māori, and it’s a treat to hear him sing Whirimako Black’s song ‘Kei Hea Taku Reo’ - it seemed as though the whole crowd wholeheartedly agreed with Teeks when he said that he “can’t wait until we’re a bilingual country”.
The highlight is his brand new song, ‘Waves’. This is the first time he’s played it live. It’s full of watery metaphors: ‘My head is underwater / but it’s the first time I can breathe’, and the lonely violin played by Nicholas Tilly Dow adds a seafaring wooziness. The emotion and excitement he feels playing something new is palpable. More recordings from Teeks can’t come soon enough, and he promises it’s not too far away.
If I have any criticism, it’s that the whole set was in a similar tempo, and so many of the songs were themed about lost or unrequited love. I’d like him to show us more range - I know it’s there. With deals just inked with international booking agents, the world will soon know about Teeks, and with that voice, his classic good looks, modesty, and humour, all he needs is the right songs to take him to the top of the charts.
Ria Hall: Rules Of Engagement
Ria Hall is an extraordinary singer, with a warm, powerful presence and no shortage of subjects to sing about. Her voice is strong, supple and soulful, whether singing in English or te reo Māori.
At the Festival Club her set centred on her recent album, Rules Of Engagement. The title comes from a letter written in 1864 by Ngai Te Rangi leader Henare Taratoa, on the eve of what would be remembered as the battle of Gate Pā, which took place in Hall’s tribal area of Tauranga Moana.
Several of her songs refer directly to the historic conflicts, which were recalled in archival audio snippets of Turirangi Te Kani, an older brother of Hall’s grandfather, interspersed through the performance.
But the phrase is also a symbol of ongoing battles - for culture and language, to right the wrongs of the past – and a suggestion of how two cultures might engage today. As Hall told the audience, her kaupapa might be militant but it starts from aroha.
For the album, she collaborated with a variety of musicians and producers, including Tiki Taane, Che Fu and Electric Wire Hustle. In concert she was accompanied by the excellent Wellington trio The Nudge, who replaced the studio settings of the album with a refreshing live energy.
Drummer Iraia Whakamoe brought special dynamics to the material, with his explosive, polyrhythmic playing. Towards the end of ‘They Come Marching’, one of the concert’s highlights, Hall briefly left the stage to the Nudge, who quickly defaulted to their psychedelic funk.
She was also joined for occasional duets by Mara TK, who channelled his inner Marvin Gaye on the hypnotic ‘Black Light’ and visionary ‘Hawaiiki’, with its gorgeous, almost-Bach-like refrain.
But it was Hall whose voice and mana dominated the night. On ‘Tell Me’, which she co-wrote with Che Fu, she soared. Early in the set she expressed her conviction about the value of artists in society and importance of the arts as a forum for issues of the day. For the rest of the evening she proved her conviction to be absolutely right.