MА̄ Talks Debut Albums, Cat-Hades and DJing for ‘Tough Crowds’
It is a hazy yet auspicious Friday afternoon in the capital city as Avantdale Bowling club’s TREES tour rolls into town. You realise that the sky is not the only thing hazy, and you begin to feel a preliminary buzz from the sheer volume of joints being passed around St James Theatre, one of the city’s oldest buildings. The building may be old but the performance taking place on stage could only be described as the future of Aotearoa.
A young DJ named WYNONA commands the decks like a veteran and lays the foundation for the lyrical onslaught that accompanies their melodic beats. And who is that on stage directing the energy of the theatre with such authority? That’s MА̄ (Ngati Raukawa, Tūhoe, Ngati Kahugnunu, Ngati Porou, Rongowhakaata) MА̄ is a Māori artist and self-proclaimed “Native with headphones”. And she was gracious enough to sit down with me to talk about her cat Hades, life after her debut album and the best advice she received from some legends of rap.
Why did you choose MА̄ as your moniker and why is it significant to you?
Everyone’s always cracking up because they think it’s something to do with “mum’s”. But, it’s just the shortened version of my full name and it’s something my friends and whānau call me.
It has been nearly two years since Breakfast with Hades was released. The album was partly inspired by your cat Hades. So, I must ask, how is Hades doing?
Hades is doing great; he’s getting old though. I think we finally worked out his age. We reckon he’s about 10 or 11, he’s a cranky old fulla. We just moved out to the coast so he’s got a bit more space.
I read that Breakfast with Hades was constructed to mirror a day in your life at the time, can you elaborate on what life was like back then? What was a typical day for you like?
Back then it was like Auckland Weather. It felt like it was raining sometimes and then all of a sudden it was a hot summer’s day. I feel like I was terrible in the morning, you wouldn’t have wanted to talk to me, but as the day moved on [I became] a little more upbeat. It’s kinda hard to talk about the album that way now because of how things have changed. I’ve definitely acquired some new tools since the album dropped. Ways to live happier and freer.
I think we are seeing a resurgence in the art of conceptual and cohesive albums like Breakfast with Hades. What are some albums that helped inspire you to create?
Off the top of my head, Baduizm by Erykah Badu was a big one. The Buena Vista social club album was one of my favourites. Grace by Jeff Buckley is a big one, music wise and how it led to some wild things for him.
To me an album is something that’s real, it’s not something that you just chuck on in the background. We have to be careful with what we say and the emotions we put into it. I took lessons from these albums and put it into my music.
What is the best way to listen to your music? What do you picture as the ideal way to enjoy it fully?
With any new album I try to make it a part of my schedule. Take my time with it. Definitely some good speakers and a little sun would also be nice.
And with any album, especially an album like Breakfast with Hades I’d tell people to drink water after or have some Kai. I can get quite deep in the Tapu space sometimes and I encourage listeners to achieve noa through food and water.
But if you happen to stumble across it and enjoy it, that’s cool too.
Although you are relatively new to the game you’ve had some pretty amazing co-signs. Having worked with veterans of the game, is there any advice that you’ve been given that sticks out as being really influential?
It’s surreal. Especially being so fresh in the game I didn’t expect it. And at first, I had thoughts that I was just a diversity pick. But then I thought about how I had released an album that I wrote for, rapped on and produced. So, now when I get these gigs my thinking has changed, because I worked for it and I deserve them. Now it’s about doing a good job.
There was a time at the start of the Trees tour. We were in Tauranga and had to go on in ten minutes. Someone from the crew came backstage and was like “Pretty tough crowd out there” Me and WYNONA were like “What, what do you mean pretty tough crowd?” He told us that they were a mix of wasted tradies and a lot of rich Pakehas.
Me and WYNONA looked at our setlist. We were gonna start with Dreamswimmer just to introduce who we are, but we thought we should start with something more upbeat. We talked to Tom (Scott) about it and he said, “Fuck that, you play whatever you want to play. If that’s the vibe you want to portray then make them feel your vibe. You’re not a Dj, you don’t need to make the crowd feel upbeat all the time. You set the vibe.” Since then, we’ve always started with Dreamswimmer.
Do you have any new music on the way that we should be looking forward to?
Artist Aja and Mara TK and I have just announced a joint venture, “Meeting House Records”. We are an Artist-Run Collective, based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara and the principles of our kaupapa are in our shared values, how we carry ourselves, and how we operate our shows.
Myself and WYNONA are also about to release an EP. We’re not being funded so we have to do everything on the cheap. We should be releasing it at the end of May!
If you want to hear more of MА̄’s music you can catch original compositions in the play ‘Witi’s Wāhine’—written by Nancy Brunning. Currently showing from May 2-20, at the ASB Waterfront theatre.