Who Got the Gig? Toni Huata
An invaluable collaboration resource for composers, musicians, performers, and anyone interested in NZ music is SOUNZ Centre for New Zealand Music. Recently they sought to implement a Māori Music Strategy (with key advice from Māpuna Consultants). To achieve this they created the new role of Kaihautū Puoro Māori/Director of Māori Music. Songstress Toni Huata was selected for the gig. She brings an impressive array of music experience, including work as a manager, director, producer and performer.
Toni explains that her musical inspiration comes from her family – especially her grandfather Te Okanga (Aussie) Huata.
“My first CD incorporated some of my grandfather's compositions — it’s called Te-Māori-E. He wrote a song by the same name for the Te Māori exhibition in the 1980s. I was driven by the desire to put his music out there because he had given so much to us and for Māoridom. He served in the 28th Māori Battalion in World War 2 and was a beautiful orator of Te Reo Māori. He was also a founding member of the Kohanga Reo movement where Māori immersion pre-schools began. I wanted to acknowledge the concepts and language in dad’s compositions that we noticed were widely used by many.”
Launching straight into the mahi
Even though she has only been in the role a few short months, Toni already had a lot to tell me about the work she has underway to benefit Māori musicians and composers.
“In March we signed our Mahi Tahi agreement with Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (Māori Language Commission). We’re working together on a Māori language plan or Mahere Reo Māori… it’s about committing to the use of Te Reo Māori across SOUNZ operations — involving our staff and even our composers.” One result she hopes to achieve as part of the Mahi Tahi agreement is the creation of bilingual signage throughout SOUNZ. “This includes naming our spaces, not just as descriptive names, but those which truly enhance what each space has. It’s about bringing more of a Māori world-view to SOUNZ.”
A regular day for Toni consists of various hui (meetings) with potential partners, staff members, or Māori musicians. She often leads meetings with staff to discuss the direction of SOUNZ and the development of education programmes that could engage Māori youth.
“I’ve been looking at different festivals and events with a kaupapa Māori nature that I could support throughout the country. I will be looking at going to these events and meeting with people face to face so that I can talk about our vision here.”
This year Toni is also hoping to host a workshop to bring Māori musicians together in order to facilitate educational discussions and the sharing of work, as well as to organise new collaborations.
“It's looking at what opportunities we can give our Māori composers. What can our composers achieve through being part of SOUNZ? For most of them it's about having their works available to be presented, performed, or rearranged...”
Toni finds music
Toni has long been based firmly within the sphere of music. Before this gig, she was driving her own music projects and touring as a singer, composer, and producer. However, pursuing a career in music was not what she had first envisioned. “My first chosen career was as a hairdresser. It’s still within the arts industry, but it’s a very different career path from what I’m doing now. When I left school I became an apprentice hairdresser in Wellington...”
“I think the development of your art is really important. This means studying… there should always be a point in your life where you go through some sort of study or development process."
Her musical talents eventually shone through and she was regularly invited to perform in themed events and became part of a band — all while still hairdressing. “That’s when people encouraged me to study music, and I haven’t looked back.” Toni studied music at Whitireia Polytech and took up a course in jazz and rock music.
“I think the development of your art is really important. This means studying… there should always be a point in your life where you go through some sort of study or development process. It's a good thing to do, like doing a course in music …”
Finding your kaupapa matua
Toni imparts another piece of important advice to those wanting to succeed in the arts: it is essential to develop a true sense of self.
“You need to be quite secure and solid within your own identity — whatever that is and wherever you are from."
“You need to be quite secure and solid within your own identity — whatever that is and wherever you are from. I find that is very helpful, because then from there, you can develop what your overall kaupapa matua is, or what you want to work towards. To be successful requires a lot of consistent work, positivity, and faith in what you are doing. A lot of people can be disheartened if they are not earning enough money, if they’re not getting enough work, or if they were hot for a little while and it slips off. When you have a stronger sense of identity and self-worth you can more easily acknowledge that that is just part of the journey. The ups and the downs actually just contribute to your life direction and your character. It makes you who you are.”
Portraits of Toni by Penn Productions (middle) and Stephen A'Court (top and bottom).