Te pēne Māori by Vaughan Rapatahana
We were all Māori, albeit from different iwi Māori.
Our commonality rather extended not to our ethnicity, but to our shared musical interests and abilities, given that the former more than likely had a major bearing on the latter: Māori can sing and dance naturally, eh! Or so they say. So they tell us all the time.
The commonality was exacerbated by the fact that we were all citizens of Matakaoa too. Far East Coast, North Island to you.
So there you have it: a ready-made band.
East Beat was the name we finally glued ourselves to and East Beat was the name that stuck with us. It was what we did best too.
We commenced at Te Waha o Rerekohu area school in Te Araroa in late 1993. I was a teacher there and Rob Hemi aka Rob Te Miha was in loco as a guitar instructor. We used to jam together with the kids out in a back prefab: me slamming the drums as I had been doing for years anyway.
Rob Hemi, of course, was an originator of The Māori Hi-Fives – a severely underrated Rock ‘n Pop ‘n Swing ‘n Haka ‘n just about every musical genre group, that toured worldwide from the late 1950s through to the early 1970s, who had residencies in Las Vegas (where they were awarded a star on the pavement outside New York-New York Hotel & Casino Brooklyn Bridge in 2009) and that – as another example of their weighting - played as support to The Beatles in 1964. I know ‘cause Rob showed me the original photo of him and Paul Mc Cartney with their arms around each other, while the Las Vegas concretization is easily Googled, eh.
Rob could really play too, was a ‘true professional’, was committed to being a musician – indeed he couldn’t abnegate so being – it oozed out of his very being. He was also a stern taskmaster and quite a disciplinarian if we mucked around too much.
We was also Phil Reid and Willie Tumai who played bass guitar and who came from out Wharekahika way. Phil was a long-term resident of Te Araroa – and a real odd-jobsman. When I first met him he was working at the soon to close ANZ branch there: later he worked in the Community Centre, as a travelling salesman of all sorts of palaver and as a school bus driver. He was our vocalist. He tended to like the middle-range stuff. Kei te pai ia hoki.
We rehearsed for a bit and soon word-of-mouth started spouting and hey we were away. Always plenty of mahi – cash jobs every time too – goes without saying eh. We played frequently at the KK Combined Club and at its next door neighbor Tokorarangi Rugby Football club. We played at the RSA for the breakups of Te Waha o Rerekohu as well as at their school dances. We played at birthday parties and party parties from Pōtaka marae through to Matahi marae. We went down to Te Puia pub to play. For a spell there we were everywhere: we were THE band. We all had a ball. Singing and dancing come one, come all.
Played a good mixture of material too, eh. Rock ‘n roll always went down well, but anything danceable was the one. Anything also with a bit of emotion in its lyrics also hit home. Our repertoire expanded the more we landed on our feet. Rob and Willie could just about play anything by ear, as well as from music charts if necessary, while I just picked up the beat and rode with it. So The Beatles were meshed in with Wilson Pickett. Bob Marley with Robbie Williams. Requests were a dime a dozen and we cashed in on our ability to spend on them big time. There wasn’t much we couldn’t play.
So right on through 1994 we were a cohesive unit, always with Rob Hemi as kaiwhakahaere. Te pēne Māori tuatahi o Matakaoa.
And here’s my main thrust in writing this reminiscence. Māori do it for themselves, eh. Always have done always will too. In their own indomitable fashion. For their own people. Readapting musical styles and trends into something approaching sui generis. Just as with the waiata-ā-ringa – a completely new hybrid of ngā mōteatea and Pākehā chanson.
All of which leads to a delineation of one especial night when we performed – the quantum crux of this personal recollection, if you will.
It would have been in March, 1994 when we were first asked to play on Friday nights down at the Tikitiki RSA – which was about 20 minutes fast drive around the circuit of winding hills and breast-shaped hills between us in Te Araroa and Wharekahika and them on the flatlands finishing stretch of Rangitukia and Tikitiki.
So we went, with a pretty dire warning from Rob that ‘those guys didn’t take any shit’ - so we had better play well. Indeed he had us practising a bit more than usual the weekend before: all in readiness for what I guess he expected would be a residency.
As it turned out we were quite a success for the few weekends we did front up and play in Tikitiki – their financial limitations and perhaps whimsical audience expectations succeeded in making sure our residency was more a fly-by-couple-of night’s whim.
We soon settled into our usual fairly fast-based repertoire and had the reasonably sizeable crowd up on their feet and pounding around the fairly confined spaces of the club, smoke pall and all hanging about like a bad smell – which in those pre-non-smoking days it most certainly was. The tap beer flowed and the music rode an ever increasing wave of popular songs – from Mustang Sally through to – believe it or not – My Way, which Phil’s stentorian pipes loved to mulch on.
You knew you were ‘on’ so to speak when you saw the grins of the pretty girls as they circled like dervishes in front of you and even the smiley kaumātua were tapping their feet in rhythm with our pulsing beats. Ka nui te pai tēnei pō, nē rā! Hell’s Bells, even the oftime grouchy Koro Dewes seemed less his gruff self that evening and wasn’t spitting out spindles of abuse to all and sundry who might have been strangers to this, his haunt.
I can’t say I actually saw him dance, but he was swaying more than his norm, eh. And most if not all of Rangitukia seemed to be in on the gambit too – it was all something fresh and fun for that small community. All the familiar faces were there, swaying away in front of our low-cut dress of a stage.
I do also recall one bracket where we – East Beat – played non-stop at a steadily ratcheting pace with rhythms I had never encountered previously and vocal inflexions also marked out by their novelty. Somehow the music took over us and we became it: - a solid holistic unit that forbore any individual ego-based identities and became a wall of metaphysical Māori sound. It made you not want to stop and made you want to remain riveted to the drum stool for a lot longer, given the pain in your wrists and the sweat in your eyes and the aching remonstrations in both shoulders.
A sort of epiphany, I suppose. What were the songs in this stolen flash of nirvana? I remember She Was Just Seventeen being one of them: but – even with deep reflection now – I’m buggered if I can recall the rest. I do still have fleeting images of Phil Reid doing his best Dennis Marsh impressions though. And somehow Ben Tawhiti’s Hawaiian guitar melodies flickered through the mix too.
Later, as we wound our tired ways back to Te Araroa and beyond in our old cars – I was driving my black Mark Four Zephyr if I recall rightly – we felt warm and worn. Been all worth it, even if the George Nepia cash notes really only covered our gas expenses.
He pēne Māori? Nah – I’d say Te pēne Māori. Kia ora taku ngā hoa no te ropu o East Beat. Kia ora hoki ki ngā tangata o Matakaoa. Ko ngā mahara mahana nui me hari mo tēnei, te taima katoa.