TBI Q&A: Wahine Toa Tour

Singer songwriters Ariana Tikao and Hannah Howes.
Hannah Howes. Image by Pat Shepherd.
Ariana Tikao.
Singer songwriters Ariana Tikao and Hannah Howes talk about the Wahine Toa Tour, tips for self-ma


Singer songwriters Ariana Tikao and Hannah Howes met after performing at a ‘Reclaim the Night’ march for women in Dunedin in 2003. Since then they have continued to collaborate and are now touring NZ to celebrate Music Month and Matariki.

“Wahine Toa means ‘warrior woman’ and I liked the idea of us heading out armed with a bunch of beautiful and powerful songs,” says Ariana.

In this TBI Q&A, both Ariana and Hannah talk about the Wahine Toa Tour, challenges and opportunities in the music industry, tips for self-managed artists and what Matariki means to them.

What aspect of your creative practice gives you the biggest thrill?

Recording new songs in the studio & performing to an appreciative audience.
Hannah: Yeah recording is always a thrill, it’s a great chance to use all different aspects of your brain - it can get quite challenging co-ordinating everyone and listening objectively over and over to tracks.. I love it! I also enjoy performing live, festivals and small towns - listening audiences or dancing audiences help. Getting to work with people I respect as artists is also quite breath-taking.

What's your number one business tip for surviving (and thriving) in the creative industries?

Turn up on time, be flexible to change(s), try and be the best communicator you can be.
Hannah: Sleep well, eat well and exercise. And be organised, fortunately I quite enjoy the booking side of things.  Also I think you need to be flexible - sometimes the writing and performances are all on and other times the tap is off. You have to be OK with writers block and quiet times.

Who or what has inspired you recently?

Um, with this National Government, is there anything to be inspired by? The current environment in this country is totally uninspiring ie. plans for mining the conservation estate, tax cuts for the rich etc. But despite this, I am always inspired personally by my kids, and other tamariki.
Hannah: Yeah I agree. Why would someone on $500K a year need that income let alone an extra $300 per week on tax cuts? I just cannot see the sense in that distribution of wealth. I'm actually thinking it would be a good time to head overseas for some inspiration. Having said that, the anger I feel about this kind of inequity is the impetus behind some songs I've written over the past few years.

How did the Wahine Toa Tour come about?

Wahine Toa means “warrior woman” and I liked the idea of us heading out armed with a bunch of beautiful and powerful songs, kind of like in my friend Jacquie Walters composition, “Warrior of Song” (recorded on our 1996 album Mihi, by Pounamu)
Hannah: We had been meaning to do some shows together for a while and two shows turned into a national tour.

How do you know each other and why did you decide to collaborate on this tour?

I met Hannah in 2003 at a “Reclaim the Night” march for women in the Octagon in Dunedin. We both performed at this event. I introduced myself to Hannah afterwards and told her I enjoyed her performance. Afterwards I started mentoring Hannah, telling her what I knew about promo and funding etc. Then we started doing some shared gigs every now and then.
Hannah: We have performed together and supported each other around NZ but never done a full tour together.  I was very fortunate to have Ariana co-write a song ' Oohaakii' for my recent album, 'Candy'. It's great to get this opportunity to strip back the band and have some wahine time.

Describe your musical styles and how they work with each other?

I think we are quite different, but I guess the common element for me, is that we both write kaupapa based songs. Songs with a message and a story to them. I think Hannah’s are often lyrically quite complex and clever.
Hannah: Oh thanks! I feel the same, I think essentially our commonality is that we are both focused writers, with references beyond our lifetimes and also on our societies.  I think Ariana speaks very clearly about where she comes from and listening to her words allow a depth of emotion to surface because she is delving into this great deep pool, not skimming the surface.

How have you organized and prepared for your set?

I sang on Hannah’s Candy album and wrote a karanga for one of her songs, so I will perform on that one, as well as play some taonga puoro. I think as we are driving down to Dunedin we might be having some singalongs and see what develops!
Hannah: Yeah self-management leaves little time for rehearsal. We have played together over a few years so are familiar with each others songs. That stuff develops at the time, as long as we are prepared in all other areas we should be able to relax into the mood.  We have Thursday night for a run through too!

Who will be joining you on tour?

We are lucky to have Ben Lemi Wood on tour with us as our drummer, and I will have Nanako Sato playing keyboard and doing backing vocals for me. Nanako is also going to play some of her own songs from her album The Miracle Tree as a support slot. There are some other guests joining us along the way in the different centres too. I can’t wait!
Hannah: Ben also does a one man band stunt for me playing drums with his right hand and feet, keys with his left and BVs. He is also an incredible under cover singer/ songwriter. I have a few other guests playing with me on tracks, Alan Starrett in Dunedin, Dayna Sanerivi in Christchurch, Alistair Fraser in Wellington (he is playing Taonga Puoro for both of us).

Ariana - You were a finalist for the 2010 Music Managers Self Managed Artist of the Year. Congrats! What advice would you give to self-managed artists?

Thanks…Keep at it. Keep learning. Get together with other self-managed artists to support each other, and give advice to each other. Join MMF, they have some great opportunities to meet with managers and other industry related support.

Hannah - Also as a successful independent artist – why did you choose the indy route and what advice would you give?

Well, I did meet with some BMG reps years ago but they merged with EMI and it lost steam - I guess I didn't want to be selling my CDs in the warehouse for $4.95 for a year before people forgot about me. NZ is such a small industry and audience - and other artists are so willing to share their knowledge of tour routes, contacts, MMF and APRA are great and inspiring. It seems the only way to get by as a musician is to tour and play live and create your own audience. It seems easy to do. But it’s also lot of work. I think it’s important to ask and become part of forums, networks etc and to see other live music... my recent Japan Tour came about by simply emailing strangers- don't give up : )

What do you think are the current challenges and opportunities in the music industry in New Zealand?

I guess they relate to the challenges worldwide in terms of downturn in CD sales, that technology has changed the way that people receive the music. But there will always be music, and people wanting to hear it. It seems the key is to get out and tour, take the music to the people. Through social networking NZ music and musicians are much more visible and accessible, and it seems that in so many genres NZ music is thriving. But still not easy as an independent artist.
Hannah: I think it’s shameful that many of the biggest profile internationally touring acts in New Zealand are earning less than the average wage, sleeping on couches and paying to play at venues or working day jobs.  I had a friend who had to take his platinum sales award into the dole office to prove he was in a major band and still needing assistance. But that's the reality. Branches of support like Creative New Zealand, Artist benefits, NZ Music Commission and NZ on Air are essential to our growth. But it seems that the funding should be greater- musicians work so hard and are essential to the reputation and spirit of the country. John Key says don't be jealous of high income earners being rewarded by the new budget as they are essential to our economy. What about our culture? I guess he has made it clear he wouldn't mind if the airwaves went silent.

Which of your projects to date has given you the most satisfaction?

I am very proud of the Tuia album and really enjoyed working with Leyton who produced it. Also the video work I have done with Louise Potiki Bryant, we won an international award for the music video for Tuia last year, so I felt pretty proud of that. I have plans to do some more work with Louise in a couple of months time. I am in awe of her talents.
Hannah: 'Candy' was my greatest achievement to date, I had everyone I most admire as musicians performing on it and most of them I had musical history with so it was very rewarding. A close second was the NZ 'Candy' release tour, in April/May last year which was a triumph and a heartache touring with four boys in a van and making sure they got paid.

What’s great about NZ Music Month?

Being swamped with NZ music. I really love listening to NZ music but have been too busy to go to many gigs so far. I listen to Kiwi FM a lot, and Music 101 on National radio is awesome. It’s a great opportunity for “kotahitanga” or mutual support of the artists and the industry as well as the general public to celebrate what NZ musicians have to offer.
Hannah: It is a great incentive to get the music out there again and you really take notice of the fabulous bands around you, it's a driving force knowing that you're not the only one staying up all hours promoting, writing and organising your music!

What does Matariki mean to you?

A chance to celebrate an indigenous festival that has so much meaning for this part of the world. So many of our seasonal celebrations are imports, and it makes so much sense in winter to use this time as a reflective time of what has been and a dreaming time of what could be.
Hannah: Yeah I'm the same. It feels like a new beginning on the horizon. It’s the most magical season. We are both from the South Island, Te Wai Pounamu, and the experience of winter is so strong it’s a very creative time. A reflective time. That seems to be the sign of new beginning. I love that Matariki occurs when the stars decide. It’s a respectful celebration. There is also a strong contingency of ferals and earthy types in Dunedin so it reminds me of my southern roots, crystal clear starry nights and people going all out in the freezing cold to celebrate mother nature. Harvest, plenty..... Ahhh.

What's the best way to listen to music, and why?

Any way, all ways, always. Even when not listening to it you can still feel it inside.
Hannah: Live. Or loud. At home while doing housework in your best dress.

What’s your big idea for 2010 and 2011?

Keep moving creatively, keep exploring, keep true.
Hannah: I'm hoping to get one come Matariki.

Further Information:

Wahine Toa Tour

May 21st:   ChCh City Council (Lunchtime concert in Cathedral Square)

May 21st:   Lyttelton: Harbour Light Theatre
May 22nd:   Dunedin: Chicks Hotel, Port Chalmers
May 23rd:   Oamaru: The Penguin Club
Sat 29 May: Paekakariki: St Peter's Hall

Sun 30 May: Wellington: San Francisco Bathhouse

Fri June 4: Leigh: Sawmill Cafe

Sat June 5: Corban Estate Arts Centre, West Auckland (Afternoon)
Sun June 6: Raglan: Yot Club



Written by

The Big Idea Editor

27 May 2010

The Big Idea Editor Cathy Aronson is a journalist, photo journalist and digital editor.

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