10 Feb 2018

Kupe composer Warren Maxwell - 'it’s going to be big'

From Saturday Morning, 11:05 am on 10 February 2018

Kupe Warren Maxwell (Ngai Tuhoe) has written the score for Kupe, the NZ Festival opening night extravaganza on Wellington's waterfront. Performers, a mass choir and a thousand-strong haka will kick off the festival as a fleet of waka hourua sail into the harbour.

Kupe - NZ Festival, Waka arrival

Kupe - NZ Festival, Waka arrival Photo: supplied

“We’ve got a show, and it’s going to be big” says Warren Maxwell ecstatically. He’s got goosebumps just thinking about it. “We’re imagining the whole of Wellington will turn up.”

He says the show is a celebration of waka, of 10th century pacific explorer Kupe and his wife Kuramarotini, but also of all of our ancestors coming here 'to this little Island in the South Pacific' and the ocean connecting us.

A Waka Odyssey – Kupe is a free theatrical spectacle which will open the NZ Festival this Friday on Wellington's waterfront. It starts at 7pm in front of Te Papa and will be shown on big screens around the area.

The piece that Maxwell has composed features a 300 strong choir, live percussion, Maisey Rika playing the part of Kupe's wife Kuramarotini and a thousand people doing a specially composed haka.

The performances all take place as a fleet of waka hourua (traditional double-hulled sailing canoes) arrive in Wellington harbour from their homes around NZ.

Audience members are invited to learn the Haka - 'Kupe Hautoa' and join in on the night. Festival organisers have created this helpful instructional video:

If your school or kapa haka group would like to join in, email nzfestival@restival.co.nz.

“We’d love to hear the whole of Wellington harbour resonating in appreciation of these waka” says Maxwell. “Doing a haka mihi to these waka.” He says people will be moved by the community of the event.

Warren Maxwell in Antarctica

Warren Maxwell in Antarctica Photo: Jason O'Hara

In 2016 Maxwell was given the opportunity to spend some time as an artist resident in Antarctica, and he’s used some of the sounds he found there as part of the soundscape for Kupe. He’s manipulated the recordings, but there’s whales, penguins, and water in there “just to get that ethereal feel - it’s quite dreamy and surreal.”

Maxwell grew up in Whangarei and studied jazz at the Conservatorium of Music, Wellington, where he has also taught. He is a founding member of Trinity Roots, played saxophone in Fat Freddy's Drop and is the leader of blues quartet Little Bushman. Maxwell has written film scores and worked on theatre sound design. He was one of five inaugural recipients of an Arts Foundation New Generation Award in 2006.

What: A Waka Odyssey – Kupe

Where: Wellington waterfront, in front of Te Papa

When: Friday 23 February 2018, 7-8pm

More information: NZ Festival website