Te Whare Hononga, Taranaki Cathedral, New Plymouth

13/10/2023 - 13/10/2023

Reimagine Festival / Taranaki Arts Festival 2023

Production Details

Charles (Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa, Ngāti Te Ata, Ngāti Mutunga) and Emily Looker

Aro consists of husband and wife, Charles (Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa, Ngāti Te Ata, Ngāti Mutunga) and Emily Looker. Blending Emily’s honey-voiced jazz with Charles’ full throated percussive sound with shades of haka, Aro’s storytelling performance adds up to a warmth of experience, wholly original, anchored in Aotearoa New Zealand, that leave all who are present with the feeling of having been let in on a special secret.

The pair share a passion for the power of language and music to tell stories and remind us of our cultural identity. The duo were finalists for the Maioha Award at the Silver Scrolls (2019), finalists at for the APRA Best Children’s Song Award for their waiata Korimako (2020) and Kia Mau (2023), and they were finalists for Best Māori Group at the Waiata Māori Music Awards (2022).

Te Whare Hononga, Taranaki Cathedral
Fri 13 October 2023, 7:00 PM
General Admission: $35.00
Admission service fees apply

Charles (Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa, Ngāti Te Ata, Ngāti Mutunga) and Emily Looker

Music , Theatre ,

60 minutes

Songs and stories buzz with love, passion, wisdom and life

Review by Martin Quicke 14th Oct 2023

The saying goes that good things come to those who wait.

Ngāmotu waited nearly 7 years for Te Whare Hononga to open, allowing a place of worship on the grounds of our famous cathedral, closed since 2016 due to earthquake fears.

The wait for this stunning building and, as it turns out, performance space, was worth it because tonight we were blessed with the first of hopefully many performances to come. The space lends itself wonderfully to live performance. It is a warm and inviting place to be. The natural light, exposed wood, Māori designs and recreated images drawn by early settlers creating a sense of tradition while modern flair is woven in seamlessly.

This is the first time many of the audience have stepped inside the brand-new Te Whare Hononga, there is a general buzz of excitement and appreciation for this beautifully designed space. The lovely women on either side of me comment on the exposed beams, invoking the image of a kete, woven together to hold us, protect us and our taonga. The theatre nerd in me takes it in and notices how the jagged edges and nooks and crannies are trapping noise; the full room has no echoes of voices. The general hubbub is absorbed and dissipated wonderfully, and I wonder if acoustics were a consideration in the design of this stunning space.

I do not have to wait long for the answer to my musing.

Aro, consisting of husband-and-wife duo Charles (Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa, Ngāti Te Ata, Ngāti Mutunga) and Emily Looker, are also great believers in the power of patience and reflection, waiting for bird song to inspire their waiata and stories. We are welcomed into their world with confidence and passion, brilliant smiles and purposeful eyes gazing into the crowded room. The setting sun casts its cloud-dulled glow through the stained glass, a simple staging of red backlighting is effective against the natural tones of wood and dark flooring.

Both Charles and Emily are dressed modestly, in neutral tones and casual. My eyes are drawn to the dramatic red lipstick and nails that Emily sports, the drama perfectly clashing with her muted tan outfit. Charles is looking like he just came from a jam session at the beach, rolled up jeans, bare feet and loose-fitting cotton shirt. The couple are beautiful and clearly at ease within themselves.

A few words, a welcome, a brilliant smile and we are swept up and soaring like the birds that inspire their art. We are given insight to their world, touring Aotearoa in a van and hearing the song of the Korimako (Bellbird) while parked in Akaroa. Writing songs to their child still in Emily’s puku, visiting family old and new, learning about themselves and each other.

I am acutely aware of the fact that I spend a fair amount of my time with eyes closed and huge grin spread across my face as I am taken away by their stunning waiata. Gorgeous harmonies and cleverly mixed backing tracks, loop pads and guitar find me flying high above the cathedral grounds and swaying like a kārearea on the breeze. The plastic seats pulsing and shifting as hips move, feet tap and shoulders bop to the groove. In between waiata we are treated to seeing a young couple in love share their stories, laughing and playing with one another as they lead us on their admittedly off-the-cuff setlist.

“We do have a setlist, but usually we end up shaping it to the space we find ourselves in,” Charles muses to a delighted audience. “So, while this book has a setlist of songs in it, we pretty much went ‘nah’ after the first song and we have no idea what’s coming next either.” 

How can two people be this at ease and cool, yet exude professionalism and talent beyond their years?

Emily’s voice is luxurious, full and sultry. It soars, dips and dives. Her runs are flawless and inventive, looped back upon itself in exquisite harmonies and percussive tones. She sways to the music, fluid, free and fierce. Those bright red nails catching the eye as her hands twist and move like swirls of smoke.

Charles is a powerhouse. His guitar sings and lilts, woven and matched to his wife. His voice is delightfully delicate at times, rising to heights quite unexpected. The harmonies the couple create are incredibly moving, not always where one would expect them to go, choosing different paths that make your hair stand on end and ears tilt towards the alluring sounds. More than once I find myself with a tear in my eye, a smile stretched from ear to ear and lost in the moment.

Even new songs being performed live for the first-time buzz with love, passion, wisdom and life. Love is a many splendored thing; seeing and hearing the love that these two share for each other, their art and te reo Māori is inspiring. How lucky we are to have artists of this calibre living, working and creating in our world.

Good things come to those who wait… but don’t wait to see this wonderful couple the next time they’re on tour. And don’t forget to listen to the birds every chance you get.


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