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Unsung heroine

A love of music growing up led to an award-winning country music career for Sydney-based Camille Te Nahu and now her journey will feature on Maori Television series Unsung Heroes of Maori Music next week.

Growing up in Elgin, she moved to Sydney in 1999 six weeks after attending the Tamworth Country Music Festival and becoming inspired by the New South Wales country music scene.

The break came a year later with a job selling merchandise for Australian country singer-songwriter Kasey Chambers and the beginning of a full-time music career leading to now 36-year-old Camille becoming one of Australia’s premier female vocalists.

“I think the choice to give up my day job (as an office temp) was a big decision for me but I knew ‘nothing changes if nothing changes’ so I took the plunge and it paid off.”

Indeed it did. Not long after, she snagged the opening spot on Chambers’ “The Captain” tour which led to singing backing vocals in her shows across Australia and North America and on her 2002 ARIA chart topper “Not Pretty Enough”.

“I was just thrilled for Kasey. It was a buzz hearing myself on this song though, especially if I was out shopping at my local grocery store and it would come on over the radio,” says Camille.

She has since sung backing vocals for other multi-award winning Australian artists including Troy Cassar-Daley, Beccy Cole and Sara Storer but says some of her best memories are of being on the road with the Chambers family.

“They looked after me when we toured, they took me under their wing and I was able to learn so much about life on the road and just the music business in general.”

It was through her music that she met her husband — leading Australian country music guitarist Stuie French.

“Stuie had been touring with Australian country star Troy Cassar-Daley for eight years as his guitarist and it was his last gig with Troy that happened to be the gig he hired me for the first time to be his backing singer.

“That was where Stuie and I met and started dating — he often jokes about how he lost his gig because of me!”

In January, the couple picked up the Country Music Album of the Year gong at Australia’s 41st annual Country Music Awards for their 2012 release “Big Days and Little Years”.

It was their second major accolade — last year they won single of the year at the 2012 Southern Stars — the Australian Independent Country Music Awards.

“When we are on stage together we have fun and I think people enjoy our chemistry on stage from joking one minute to sharing a really personal sad story the next.

Keeping it real“We just try to keep it real.”

Camille and Stuie’s children, Chet (9), Sonny (6) and Manaia (2), are starting to pick up the music passion too.

“Chet is playing trombone in his school band and dabbles in guitar. Sonny is a music nut and loves to sing, and normally guests on our shows. Manaia has just started joining us on stage too and can hold a tune well!”

Camille is the daughter of Pele (Samoan/Pakeha) and the late Richard Te Nahu (Ngati Kahungunu). Her brother Dion still lives in Gisborne too.

The former Gisborne Girls’ High student was involved in kapa haka and various school bands throughout secondary school.

She says she has always loved music and lists Canadian musician KD Lang and Australian singer-songwriter Rick Price among her music idols.

“I’m influenced by a few different styles of music from country to jazz, R&B to pop — I’m not real fussy, I love it all if it is played well.

“My mother was involved in the operatic society shows and I used to go along to all of her rehearsals — she tells me I learned all the words to songs before she did.”

She joined the Gisborne Country Music Club when she was eight years old. Her cousin Kelly Te Nahu and uncle Anaru Te Nahu were also members so it was a “real family affair”.

Her early years of singing Maori songs probably had an impact on sealing her future as a musician.

“Maori waiata have gorgeous melodies and so I think subconsciously this is partly why I fell in love with country music — it is simple and honest and there is nothing better than when it is played right and authentically.”

The latest series of Unsung Heroes of Maori Music, now in its third season, profiles 13 Maori musicians and entertainers who have been largely unrecognised in the mainstream media with Camille’s story first up when the series premieres next Friday.

Producer Phil Crown said this year’s episodes feature a more contemporary line-up and includes Tina Cross — the voice behind the original Shortland Street theme song — and New Zealand hip hop pioneer Teremoana Rapley.

Camille feels honoured to be included among such legendary artists in this series.

“I’ve been gone from New Zealand for 14 years now but Gisborne will always be home. To get a call to be part of this show really blew me away and I loved feeling connected with home again.”

• Unsung Heroes of Maori Music — Camille Te Nahu screens on Maori TV on Friday, March 22 at 8pm.

Camille Te Nahu.