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The Path Less Travelled

Bea Turner



SALIENT Music Editress Beatrice Turner talks to Anika Moa.
Anika Moa has just returned from the gym. She’s hanging out at her dad’s house in Auckland, and the weather is beautiful. Despite a horrific phone line that has me repeating every question at least three times, she scarcely pauses to draw breath for the next twenty minutes, giving forth opinion on everything from the perception of Maori in New Zealand to her plans to “try to stop bingedrinking” on her upcoming solo tour. Interviews usually have me sweating and stammering down the phone in dread of those uncomfortable pauses, but talking to Anika is the easiest, and dare I say it charming conversation with a musician I have ever had.
From winning ‘Most Promising Female Artist’ at the Smokefree Rockquest while a teenager to becoming the first New Zealander to get an overseas record contract without first building a career at home (in just three years), Anika Moa’s career trajectory was the stuff of dreams. The resultant album, 2001’s The Thinking Room was a smash in New Zealand, with single ‘Youthful’ dominating radio and TV airtime for months. Since then it seems, everything’s been rather quiet for the girl with the un-PC sense of humour who happily describes herself as “too Maori for the internet.”
In 2005 her sophomore album Stolen Hill was released, and while it was well received by critics, it has yet to generate anything like the near-hysteria that greeted her debut. So what has Anika been doing these past four years, if not jumping on the relentless PR hypemachine generally demanded of majorlabel artists? “Just travelling all over New Zealand, saying hey to people, chilling out. My tour follows everywhere I travel.” Anyone who’s ever witnessed Anika Moa in concert and heard her individual brand of stage banter that runs the gamut from forthright honesty to toilet humour (“I just wanna come out on stage and go ‘we’ll I’m nervous everybody, fuck that!’ It’s a nervous reaction, to be honest”) will know that the singer who not so long ago was tipped by almost everybody to be the next Bic Runga, prefers the path less travelled. Her relationship with Atlantic may have hit the rocks, but her attachment to and love of Aotearoa shines through her new songs. Flooded with Moa’s personal lyrics, Stolen Hill asks some probing questions about the state of Maori today, and represents a substantial step forward in maturity. “When I wrote The Thinking Room I was 16-17, and so it’s me as a teenager. “Stolen Hill was written from the age of 22 through 24, and that’s me maturing into my early twenties. That’s what singer-songwriters do, we write about everything that happens to us, the good shit and the bad. I’ve had a lot of real bad shit happen to me, and I’ve had some absolutely magical stuff happen to me.”
I ask her if the title refers to land seizures, and she replies instantly “Oh, absolutely, yeah, I thought I’d get that dig in! The song, ’Stolen Hill’, it’s a love song, where I tell my lover that if I die, he can watch me on the stolen hill, meaning One Tree Hill. Which is a stolen hill.” Quite literally, One Tree Hill is a part of the land included in the massive Auckland Tribunal hearings currently underway. When I ask if she minds talking some more about politics, the answer is strident. “Shit no, I’ll talk about anything.”
What then, are the challenges still to be faced by Maori? “Just constantly getting put down. As a Maori kid growing up in a white city [Christchurch], the three things were, getting put down just ‘cause I was Maori, because my mum was poor and on the DPB, and I was from a low decile school. And this is the thing we fight against, ‘cause everyone says that Maoris are stupid, drunk, and always stealing.” Even despite the many positive Maori role-models and greater levels of education about Maori issues? “Yeah, even so, this is still how I think we are represented.”
I tell her how glad I am to talk to a public figure who’s happy to be upfront about her political views, and she just laughs, like, how could it be any other way? She refuses to let herself be pigeonholed into any lazy definition of a ‘New Zealand sound’, for which I am thankful, but she does feel that the album is defiantly “Kiwi”, because “the album’s subject matter is New Zealand, and to be a New Zealander means living with the Treaty of Waitangi, living with all these things.” Yet despite a very clear-eyed realism when it comes to the social issues and continued marginalisation of Maori, Moa defines herself as a New Zealander first and foremost. “I am a New Zealander, I am a woman, I am a Maori.” How then does she feel about becoming a role model to not only the Maori community, but to a certain extent much of New Zealand’s socially marginalised? “It is scary being a role model. At first I didn’t want to, ‘cause I was like seventeen, and what does a seventeen year old know about that? But you don’t really get a choice, and now, yeah, I’m happy. If I can reach out with my songs to young women, to Maori women, to single mothers and angry Maori men, that’s what I want.”
Anika Moa is taking her Plastic Tiki Band on tour in October, her first solo tour, in a huge itinerary that seems to cover almost everywhere in the country. 22 dates in 26 days, I tell her. How will she cope? “Shit isn’t it 17 dates? Fuck, I don’t know, you’d know better than me. But it’ll be awesome. Big jams, lots of saying hey to everyone, getting people up on stage to sing along. I can’t wait.” I tell her I’ll probably be reviewing her gig. “You better be nice to me…or I’ll stab you.”