ECHOES OF THE ISLANDS
Kiwi Mono-Stereo SLC-55 12 in. LP 33 ⅓ r.p.m.
This recording features the combined choirs of St. John's College and Loreto Girls' High School, Ovalau, Fiji—two of the best known educational boarding institutions in Fiji which provide schooling not only for young Fijians but also for many young people from other Pacific islands. In many ways, because of the performers and the type of songs they sing, this record will invite comparison with its New Zealand equivalent, reviewed earlier, the record of the combined choirs of Hato Paora and St. Joseph's Maori Girls' Colleges. I would not like to say which is the better. They are both very good records.
‘Echoes of the Islands’ features a collection of makes (dances) and of Fijian, Rotuman, Tongan, Maori and calypso melodies. The New Zealand listener will find particular interest in the choir's fine rendering of three Maori numbers, ‘Pokare-kare’ ‘E Rere Taku Poi’ and ‘Po Atarau’. ‘Pokarekare’ is sung in five different languages—Maori, English, Tongan, Rotu-man and Fijian. Each language gives its own characteristic inflection to the verse. All in all this is a sensitive and attractive version of the song. ‘E Rere Taku Poi’ is sung in Maori and the words come through clearly and. for the most part accurately. A girl starts each verse off with a charming ‘tahi, lua, tolu, wha’. The record cover notes that although the poi is not native to Fiji, the girls at Loreto were fascinated by the Maori art form and soon mastered the twirling of both the short and long poi. The song is given the droning, sonorous Fijian harmonies and there is added interest with the variations in tempo of the various verses. I doubt if any Maori group has recorded a better version than this one by these Fijian youngsters. Last of the Maori items is ‘Po Atarau’, sung first in English and then in Fijian with tremendous poignancy.
There is a good selection on this disc and listeners will enjoy the variety of the Fijian items. ‘Wai ni bu ni Ovalau’ is most catchy. ‘Mauluulu’ with its fast flowing unusual rhythm is sure to catch listeners' fancies. Another item, ‘Na Vanua Ni Vei-senikau’ is a calypso tune first made popular by Harry Belafonte. This version is sung in Fijian to the accompaniment of a Hawaiian guitar and castanets! Another highlight is a most unusual meke, ‘Tua i Sirine’. The choirs sing the words in three languages, Rotuman, Fijian and Tongan. The only musical accompaniment is the beating of a Tongan drum made from a four gallon kerosene tin with a dried calf skin stretched across each end. There are a number of other interesting and attractive Fijian items. My favourite is a catchy little Fijian love song, ‘Sa Moce Lei Sisi’ (‘Farewell Cecilia’).
If you are not accustomed to Fijian music, this record provides a first rate introduction. If you are so accustomed, the disc could please you even more. There are excellent cover notes to help you appreciate the items.
I cannot help but end on a note of personal reminiscence. Ovalau is a small volcanic island about an hour or so launch run (if memory serves me correctly) off the coast of Fiji's principal island. Viti Levu. Levuka, its only town, was the first capital of modern Fiji. Now it slumbers peacefully at the base of the cone looking from a distance vaguely like Papeete or, at any rate something out of Robert Louis Stevenson. Boarding the bus at Levuka one morning some years ago to travel to the end and back of what was then almost the only road, I met the school teacher from a village at the end of the road. After only a few minutes conversation he invited me to stay the weekend at the village. It was typical Fijian hospitality, and what a weekend! It coincided with a village festival and no doubt memory plays a trick or two but some of the tunes on this record sound just like the ones I heard many years ago in two days
of almost non-stop feasting, singing and dancing. An echo of the islands indeed!
A RAINBOW IN THE SKY
Kiwi Stereo/Mono SLC-96 12 in. LP 33 ⅓ r.p.m.
THE BEST OF KIRI
Kiwi Stereo/Mono SLC-85 12 in. LP 33 ⅓ r.p.m.
If Kiwi reflects the requirements of the record-buying public—and one has every reason to suppose that they try and give the customers what they want—then the issue of two more Kiri records would seem to prove that Miss Te Kanawa's long absence studying overseas has done nothing to diminish the affection in which she is held by her fellow New Zealanders or the demand for her voice on record.
These two latest records do not contain entirely new material but are no less welcome because of this. They provide something of a contrast. ‘Rainbow in the Sky’ contains songs which are indeed a far cry from the music which Kiri sings in the course of her operatic career. They are, for the most part, ballads and pop songs including ‘On a Clear Day’, ‘A Time for Us’, ‘A Day in the Life of a Fool’ (from ‘Black Orpheus’) and several others. Like most serious singers, Kiri obviously enjoys the chance to sing songs which, comparatively speaking, make little demand on her artistically but which allow her to relax, or, as the record cover says, ‘drift lazily’ or ‘swing stylishly’. These are apt descriptions of the mood of the record. In presenting Kiri at play, ‘A Rainbow in the Sky’ is sure to be popular and please her many fans.
Although the range of music is wide, ‘The Best of Kiri’ shows Miss Te Kanawa in generally more serious mood. A simple Maori song of welcome ‘Haere Mai’, begins the record. Then she ranges through songs from shows such as ‘West Side Story’ and the ‘Sound of Music’ to operatic items from Strauss. Bizet and Puccini. In calling the record ‘The Best of Kiri’. producer Tony Vercoe says that ‘best’ is used in the sense of ‘most popular’ of all the music which Kiri has recorded to date. Certainly all who have enjoyed this young artist in the past on record, or in person, will not fail to welcome this disc which gives such a broad sampling of Kiri Te Kanawa's style and moods.
HE TOA TAKATINI—Maori Music
from the Waikato
Kiwi Stereo/Mono SLC-84 12 in. LP 33 ⅓ r.p.m.
Led by the redoubtable Canon Wi Huata, He Toa Takitini has travelled widely through New Zealand and become well known for its goodwill performances for the benefit of charitable organisations, hospitals, prisons, the Red Cross and other bodies. It draws its members from the Hamilton area where Canon Huata is Superintendent of the Anglican Maori Mission. Diocese of Waikato. The group has also toured overseas—to Australia in 1965 and 1966, the United States in 1967 and, since the making of this record, they have again been on extended tour overseas which included parts of the Continent and South East Asia.
The disc ‘He Toa Takitini’ is an agreeable record without finesse or artifice. It is pleasant listening although not without its faults, and in this respect it is worthy of some study by fellow concert parties because it exemplifies certain weaknesses, as well as strengths, in contemporary Maori singing and concert performance.
There is an increasing tendency for groups to perform ‘pot-pourri’ items which all too often consist of stringing together unrelated items without regard to meaning or mood. Thus He Toa Takitini have coupled ‘Te Ope Tuatahi’, a stirring song of that great ‘taua’ the First Maori Battalion, with A.E.I.O.U., written by Canon Huata as an entertaining and amusing way of teaching Pakeha audiences how to pronounce the Maori vowels. This strikes me as the equivalent of connecting the Maori Battalion Marching Song with ‘Mary Had a Little
Lamb’. Almost immediately after it is ‘He Rourou Ma Koutou’ which consists of a dispirited version of the haka ‘Utaina’ sandwiched between a number of other songs. I do not mean to decry the joining together of items but I do believe that there should be some unity of mood or theme between items so joined.
There are other examples on the record of songs being rendered in a way which conflicts with their original meaning and mood. ‘I Runga o Nga Puke’ is belted out as a pop song. It is pleasant enough and the rest of the group gives a good backing to a very agreeable duet but it is just too swingy for a song which is essentially a cry from the heart of a Maori soldier in hospital in the dark days of the First World War. The plaintive lament which introduces ‘E Pari Ra’ is spoiled by use of the guitar. Of course He Toa Takitini is a much travelled group and there is often a tendency for such groups to vamp up their items for Pakeha consumption but one takes a risk if one does it at home.
‘Kuarongorongo’ is an example of a fault in this and many other Maori groups—to go at an item great guns and then suddenly have several singers, who either don't know the words or who need a breath, stop dead in the middle of a line. This sort of thing just does not go unnoticed on a record even if one can get away with it on stage. Similarly in ‘Tahi Miti Toru E’ some of the singers are not sure of the words. The microphone is merciless in picking up passengers. It is best either to leave people out of a recording session if they are unsure of the items or to have the words up on a blackboard for all to see.
The record is notable for featuring a number of items for which the words were written by Canon Huata. Of particular interest is the poi chant and action song ‘Whakatangatanga’. The words were set to music by the group's guitarist Hemi Huata for performance at the opening of the Roman Catholic Maori Centre called Hui-Te-Rangi-Ora. The words employ classic Maori sayings. A slip however is the item ‘Tutira Mai’
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which is described on the cover as ‘an original song of He Toa Takitini… written by Canon Huata’ and which starts by swinging in to the tune of a well known pop song. There is, of course, no attempt to mislead here but I think it is necessary to state that it is the words and the use of the particular tune for those words which is original and not the tune itself. Listeners could otherwise claim misrepresentation where none is intended.
On the credit side the party is enthusiastic and whilst the group singing is thin in places there are several good solos. The cover is attractive with full notes on the items and on the group. Also pleasing is the fact that the notes take pains to explain just what an action song or a poi dance looks like. Often items are blithely named as action songs, etc., forgetting that the listener may never have seen, or have the prospect of seeing, the items so described. A brief description of what each type of item is about helps to make a record much more meaningful to the non-Maori buyer, particularly from overseas.