Modern Maori magic

James Tito and Maaka Pohatu
The Modern Maori Quartet
The Modern Maori Quartet unleash their full length show, Nga Bro E Wha, on unsuspecting audiences this week. Renee Liang interviews James Tito and Maaka Pohatu.

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The Modern Maori Quartet are unleashing their full length show, Nga Bro E Wha, on unsuspecting audiences in Auckland.

Renee Liang interviews James Tito and Maaka Pohatu.

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The Modern Maori Quartet are James Tito (The Almighty Johnsons and Tu), Maaka Pohatu (Taki Rua Production’s Strange Resting Places and Sydney Bridge Upside Down), Matariki Whatarau (Go Girls) and Matu Ngaropo (Maori Troilus and Cressida, Korero Mai). 

Their full length show Nga Bro E Wha is described as a trip down memory lane into Aotearoa’s past and present, it is sure to be cheeky, moving and nostalgic – a combination of music and drama.

When was The Modern Maori Quartet formed?

James Tito: I first had the idea to form some sort of a group with the boys four years ago during my internship with Taki Rua. I knew of their talent and got excited by what we could create in a room together. The Modern Maori Quartet was officially formed last year during our first showing in Q Vault.

Maaka Pohatu: Its inception was around 2010. James Tito came up with the concept and informed both Matariki and I who then invited Matu to become a member. The rest is history :)

How did you come up with the idea for Nga Bro E Wha?

JT: It came out of tossing names around other than the initial name The Modern Maori Quartet. As we became clearer about the story and shape of this show it made its way back this time as the title to the show and it fits perfectly with the world we’ve created.

MP: Nga Bro E Wha was actually one of the prototype names we came up with for ourselves alongside many others.  The Modern Maori Quartet was what we were described as originally whilst we were contemplating other options for a group name. Now it's our official name.

How did you devise the show?

JT: An important place we started from, with the help and direction of Rachel House and Tama Waipara was... what is a Modern Maori? What does that mean to us individually today and as part of a bigger whakapapa/history. The devising process has fed strongly off those questions. It has also been very collaborative, fun and free flowing.

MP: Devising employs many methods – everything from YouTube surfing for inspiration through to Internet research and listening to music.  Most of our devising process for this show involved many hours creating improvisational scenes and making musical arrangements and different song choices, etc based on the themes we’ve created.  This is done in collaboration with our director Rachel House and musical director Tama Waipara and is further fine-tuned by them.

What comes first - the theatre or the music?

JT: In the past it has been music. For Nga Bro E Wha the two have married well, both have informed each other. Sometimes the song choice has led to the 'character’s story' and vice versa.

MP: Well, we all have backgrounds in both music and theatre. Personally, whenever I'm asked that question it's kinda like asking me which came first: the chicken or the egg? To me music and theatre are parallel disciplines where one informs the other and vice versa.

Maoris are entertainers. Truth or Stereotype?  Has this affected your careers?

JT: I can’t speak for all Maoris but we definitely pride ourselves in hosting or making people feel welcome or comfortable, as far as entertainment, that could also mean through food or general warmth and ease with people. Personally, I love making people laugh – hasn't affected my career.

MP: Well this is a commonly held perception. I don't know if I agree with it being absolute truth but I do believe Maori possess a unique proprioception or the awareness and ability to assimilate things such as acting, singing, dance, martial arts etc very easily.

It's because of this that people view this natural ability as being naturally entertaining. However it's not synonymous with being an entertainer. Our people are just that damn good :)

How much are you driven by passion, and how much by opportunity?  How do you find the balance?

JT: With The Modern Maori Quartet it is purely passion and because I believe so strongly in what we are doing, opportunity is inevitable. It is more about making the right choices together. The balance is achieved through us individuals that make up the group. We compliment each other well in decision-making.

MP: I'm very much driven by passion. But it's through pursuing my passion that every opportunity has come. Opportunity without passion doesn't interest me. If it's not what I'm passionate about, what's the point?

What past productions have really changed you as a performer, and why?

JT: The Maori Troilus and Cressida really changed me. The whole process of rehearsals had a great balance of ease, love and warmth, yet the work always got done by everyone, with concerted effort.

MP: The Maori Troilus and Cressida will always be a turning point for me. It showed me exactly what opportunities there are out there for Maori on an international level. Huge, huge respect.

Have you got plans to tour?

JT: Absolutely. We want to take our show to all areas of Aotearoa, maraes, community halls - the works. And if possible, to all parts of the world – why not? :)

MP: Definitely. First Aotearoa, then the world.

* Nga Bro E Wha is produced by Teresa Brown of Boss.

Written by

Renee Liang

3 Oct 2013

Renee is a writer who is exploring many ways of telling stories, including plays, short stories, poetry (which she also performs), and cross-genre collaborations with composers, musicians, sculptors and filmmakers.

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