Though the Maori people of New Zealand are often referred to as Polynesians, their relative isolation from the main Pacific Island groups such as Fiji, Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti and Tongo has given them a somewhat distinctive musical culture. Their traditional performance, a fusion of song and dance, is known as kapahaka; haka being the generic name for Maori dance. Originally performed by warriors before a battle, the haka often combines menacing facial expressions, violent body slapping and fierce screaming, The most famous example is the intimidating, warlike routine performed by New Zealand Rugby Union team the All Blacks before commencing a game, though in modern times the haka is used in any number of situations.
Needless to say Maori music is more than just aggressive chants and bellicose dances. The use of instruments became neglected under the influence of Christianity in New Zealand, rendering much traditional music predominantly vocal. The types of songs can be divided into two categories: recitatives, which include powhiri (a welcome ceremony recited by men and women), haka taparahi (a dance without weapons), haka peruperu (with weapons), karakia (incantations and spells) and paatere (reactions to gossip); and songs, which include poi (songs accompanied by a dance in which women hit their body rhythmically with cotton balls attached to a string), oriori (songs composed to teach children of high rank their special descent and history), pao (improvised songs of local interest), waiata ahore (love songs), waiata whaiaaipo (laments) and waiata tahit, chants or song poetry often determined by a lyrical theme and accompanied by traditional instruments such as the koauau (rotund flute), putorino (small flute), nguru (nose flute) and pututara (conch shell).
Today, as in many postcolonial nations around the world, there is a resurgence of interest in indigenous culture and music. New Zealand´s commercial and underground music scenes are brimming with Maori (and other Pacific Islander) influences, from reggae, soul, electronica, hip-hop and dub (especially popular with young urban Maoris) to rock, folk, pop and other forms of world music. As is to be expected, opinion is divided on what constitutes "real" Maori music but suffice to say there is an extremely vibrant network of traditional music, with regional, tribal, school and community groups helping to revive and preserve traditions. Alongside this network are artists such as Wai, Hinewehi Mohi, Moana Maniapoto, Toni Huata and Ruia Aperahama, who fuse traditional music with modern styles; many contemporary bands are also organically multiracial, such as Fat Freddy´s Drop and Te Vaka, both of whom are made up of Maori, Polynesian and non-Polynesian members.
Nowadays, Maori people have an independent network of 20-plus tribally owned and managed radio stations, which have been the main support system for getting the music heard. The mainstream music industry has been slowly accommodating, and occasionally reveling in, the ever expanding Maori music scene and bands of Maori descent are increasingly finding themselves in demand internationally. Paul Sullivan