Modern Maori Quartet at Baycourt, 2015

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In the far-away days when Tauranga had only three all-weather1 performance venues: the Repertory Theatre, the Town Hall and, as it turned out, the Regent (most often used as a cinema theatre), your correspondent was part of a family party who did the milking early and then flossied themselves up suitably in order to see the Howard Morrison Quartet live on stage.

Unlike the other two places, the Regent was somewhere that everybody went to: rich and poor, pink and brown and nondescript, all had been to a movie and a matinée or three there, grabbing an ice cream and a truly dreadful orange cordial from the Nibble Nook and settling themselves happily in front of an enormous damask curtain, elaborately ruched and vividly lit, to be entertained.

The point of this long and nostalgic run-up to the TPC’s report on the Modern Maori Quartet’s show at Baycourt is how familiar it all seemed to be. The essential elements: a large and various crowd, an intriguingly lit stage, and a dedication to the joys of entertainment, were all there. So too was the realisation that for many of us in the fifties and sixties, Maori and pakeha alike, the only way we acquired at least some reo was through songs. So opening the show with “Haere mai”, closely followed by “Pokarekare ana”, evoked not only a great tradition in Maori show band music but also the ironic good humour that underpinned those bands’ efforts to keep the language in, or at any rate close to, mainstream EnZed culture.

And this show was, in the best possible way, right in the main stream. These fellows had the matching suits, engaging grins, great moves, and lots of bi-lingual jokes, to bring the capacity audience at Baycourt to a state of almost-instant adoration. The routines and harmonies were way better than those seen in the somewhat ragged clips that survive from their gig on TV’s Happy Hour and the overall sense of slick polish was nicely gingered up by duelling tenors and jokes about each other’s physical and vocal shortcomings.

Not that were many of the latter: James Tito established his top-note chops early in the programme (“Everything You Want”) – he got it, and perhaps just as well, because there were some less successful forays into falsetto later on. But the super-arranged (Dalvanius?) fugal work of a medley roaming from “I Don’t Want to Talk about It” through “All By Myself” to “I Want to Know What Love Is” showed real musical skills and ease across each member of the ensemble. The instrumental set-up that greeted the audience was not merely set-dressing, either – at various times we had great percussion from the ever-cheerful Matariki Whatarau, the wonderful warmth of Francis Kora’s tenor (and some intelligent bass guitar), and, throughout, solid foundation playing and low harmonies from Maaka Pouhatu. Got you right in the feels, right from the start.

The quartet, all graduates of Toi Whaakari, had put evident thought and care into the set list. Despite her nostalgic frame of mind on arrival, your correspondent found herself wondering how they were going to move from the obligatory opening ‘homage’ section, including, in “War Medley” a sobering traverse over the moods of young warriors going to, and hopefully returning, from the conflict zone, to something more contemporary. It was truly inspired, therefore, for the MMQ to create a notional Garage Party, with lots of airs in the G key (G# for the Te Teko version of “Royals”), the Baycourt hula, and the pash-at-the-party number (Bob Marley’s “Waiting In Vain”). This familiar storyline contained a nice arc of energy from the way we all did the hula to the point where our hosts ‘gently kick everybody out’, letting us leave on a smooth wave of Herbs and aroha – until the next party.

But it wasn’t to be. Despite the melancholy message of “Haere Ra”, written by the Quartet themselves, they couldn’t resist offering two generous encores, probably because every Maori boy loves his mother (“Oh, Mum…”) and there were many Maori mums in the room; and because, when all has been sung and dusted, we want to leave happy. Pharrell Williams’ song gave the MMQ a last excuse to be a bit disruptive even of their own programme and, with this mildly subversive attitude – another tradition of their showtime forerunners – to display the sophistication that varnished the whole concert like the gleam on well-shined shoes, or golden syrup on hot fried bread.

1 There were also two sound shells, one at Mt Drury and one at the Queen Elizabeth II Memorial Park.

Make sure you take a look at The ARTbopSHOW promo with James Tito for this performance of the Modern Maori Quartert  and check out the gallery of photos from the opening event and foyer.

The Te Puna Correspondent.  Living “rural” on the outskirts of Tauranga, the Te Puna Correspondent is a regular and much anticipated contributor to ARTbop.  Witty, acerbic and with an eclectic cultural and performance background the Te Puna Correspondent shares her opinions and impressions across the spectrum.   Make sure you read the archive content for this contributor,m you’ll enjoy.

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