The new seven-part docuseries Waiata / Anthems, a follow-up to the 2019 compilation album of the same name, has officially arrived on TVNZ On Demand and it certainly has a lot to teach us. Featuring a deep insight into some of our country’s greatest artists re-recording their songs in te reo Māori, each episode aims to shed a light on NZ heritage and culture by asking familiar musicians to recreate their iconic stories.
With a focus on creating a bilingual music scene here in Aotearoa, the series aims to transform the minds and attitudes of Kiwi’s surrounding te reo and help to bring our indigenous language more to the forefront, especially in such creative fields. Joined by Hollie Smith, Don McGlashan, Drax Project, Bic Runga, MELODOWNZ, Katchafire’s Logan Bell, Che Fu and Annie Crummer, each artist takes you on a journey of discovering their family and identity and adding strength to their voice as they work on translating some of their biggest hits. For some, it’s a test of patience and courage, and for others it’s a weight off their shoulder they never realised they were living with.
Such is the case for Bic Runga, who impressively already re-recorded her hit ‘Sway/Haere Mai Rā’ for the 2019 album and is back to record second track ‘There is No Time/Kāore He Wā.’ Born to a Māori father and Chinese Malaysian mother, Runga admits she’s struggled with her identity her entire life and has always tried to learn as much as she could about her Māori heritage. Back in 2004, she became the topic of controversy when she famously called out NZ for its racism; a statement NZ didn’t take all too well at the time but one that Runga still stands by. The remark left a dark cloud over the star’s head for years, but with the Waiata / Anthems project she hopes the stigma around te reo Māori in NZ will change.
The same goes for Auckland native MELODOWNZ, who was born to a Samoan mother and Māori father. Raised only by his mother, the rapper’s Māori heritage got a little lost along the way and he admits he’s always felt as though something has been missing. Embarking on an emotional journey of self-discovery, MELODOWNZ works to translate his hit ‘Fine’ into ‘Pai’ and uncovers all kinds of truths about his family that he’s struggled with before. One of the more spiritual episodes, you can feel the energy that radiates from the rapper as he becomes prouder of who he is and is welcomed into an entire family he never knew existed.
For Hollie Smith, her fear has always gotten in the way of her interest for te reo and she’s never felt as though she’s had the strength to fully tackle it head on. Wanting to help others find their voice, her and Don McGlashan give a deeper meaning to the iconic ‘Bathe in the River’ by turning it into ‘Kōrukutia.’ A vital piece of Kiwi culture, ‘Bathe in the River’ was written to soundtrack the 2006 NZ film No. 2 and remains one of Smith’s most notable works, despite the star herself having a difficult relationship with it for the majority of her career. As we follow Smith and McGlashan’s journey, Smith admits that she always found the track bittersweet because she wanted to be known as a singer/songwriter; but knowing what it means to Kiwis and its importance, translating it to te reo has been one of her proudest accomplishments.
As the series moves through each artist’s personal journey with te reo Māori, they uncover truths about themselves and their families that they’ve struggled to learn before. Hidden beneath the new recordings are layers of legacy, identity and power, giving each track whole new life and significance. With Waiata / Anthems, the movement goes beyond just expanding audiences. Instead, it takes tracks that are familiar and important to Aotearoa and adds depth and emotion to each one through the symbolism of te reo. It proves that nobody, no matter who they are, will ever stop discovering new parts of themselves and that it’s never too late to face your fears and learn something new.
A deeply insightful and empowering docuseries, Waiata / Anthems aims to educate our country on its history and show the importance of te reo Māori through the power of music. By showing its accessibility, it’s hoped that the awareness for te reo will be spread to all New Zealanders and that they too will be able to embark on their own journeys of personal growth and discovery. One brave Kiwi at a time.