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Elevating indigenous sound

Te Tairāwhiti choir Ka Hao are sitting pretty at the top of the Hot 20 NZ Singles chart for their song 35.

The track, an ode to the highway that runs along the East Coast, is performed by the 24-member choir, which features award-winning artist and composer Rob Ruha. It is the fastest-rising local release of the last seven days, based on a combination of sales, streams and radio play.

Released on September 3, the song has almost a quarter of a million combined listens on Spotify and YouTube.

With just over two years in the music industry under their belt, Ka Hao will release their debut album, Ka Hao: One Tira, One Voice, tomorrow.

The seven-track album comes after a whirlwind introduction to the music industry.

Ka Hao sold out shows at Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival and was part of the group that won Best Worship Artist and the Te Māngai Pāho Mana Reo Tui at the Aotearoa Music Awards.

Choir member Ruawhaitiri Ngatai-Mahue says they are making music to elevate indigenous sound.

“I want to see Ka Hao at its peak and to let the world see, feel and hear pure Maori music magic,” Ngatai-Mahue says.

The name Ka Hao comes from a proverb that talks about youth growing up and entering adulthood and the responsibilities of the transition.

The youth choir, aged between 13 and 19, is unique in that they compose their own music. The more experienced members, or rōpū rangatira, take on extra responsibilities.

These members lead the musical and recording processes and were responsible for the vision and direction of the album.

One of those older members, Jhaymeān Terekia, says working together as a big team has its difficulties, but the mahi has paid off.

For Terekia the move from casual musician to performer was challenging, but they had good support.

“It was really scary, especially because I wasn't interested in doing music at all. I was just going along for the ride and then I realised I loved this. It's amazing.”

Terekia is now studying design at Massey University's Wellington campus.

The choir members are from all over the East Coast.

“At the beginning most of us lived on the Coast and we would hire out school vans or carpool, and we would go on a really long road trip, doing the hours and picking everyone up.

Singers would travel to Gisborne from as far away as Te Araroa and Napier to practise.

Organising, writing and performing as such a large group has its challenges, but the group has bonded through the process.

“It was hard at first, realising that we were going to have to organise the vans and book everything and get accommodation sorted. But we have been in it for a while now.”

To get through they had support from their community.

“We leaned on our whanau and people around us asked how they could help so we utilised them,” Terekia says.

Founding mentors of Ka Hao, Archbishop of Aotearoa Don Tamihere alongside Rob and Cilla Ruha, have provided support and guidance to the rōpū (group) and encouraged the rangatahi to be self-driven, giving members ownership of the group and the responsibilities that come with calling the shots.

“From the start, it was aunty and uncle (Cilla and Rob) doing everything, but then slowly they were dropping things for us to do, like ‘OK, this time you're going to organise the food' until they could hand over most of the things for us to do,” Terekia says.

Musician and mentor Rob Ruha hopes the group will inspire people in their community.

“My hope is that they are confident in everything they do, especially in championing their dreams and in doing so, that they inspire their whānau. That they believe they can because they have built lasting relationships in Ka Hao with like-minded people who want and champion the same things,” Ruha says.

The plan for the future is to pass the torch on to the group's younger members to keep the choir and expertise growing on the Coast.

“Now we can bring up the older ones who are starting to graduate from school to be able to do what we are doing so we can pass it down.”

TOP OF THE CLASS: Te Tairawhiti youth choir Ka Hao has come out on top of the Hot 20 NZ Singles chart for their song 35 and clocked up over a quarter of a million listens on streaming platforms. Picture supplied
HITTING THE RIGHT NOTE: Te Tairawhiti youth choir Ka Hao has come out on top of the Hot 20 NZ Singles chart for their song 35 and clocked up over a quarter of a million listens on streaming platforms. Picture supplied