'Avaiki Nui Social

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

10/06/2023 - 10/06/2023

Kia Mau Festival 2023

Production Details

Written by: Tuaratini and Jarcinda Stowers-Ama
Scene Director : Taungaroa Emile
Choreographer: Te Hau Winitana
Production Director: Mīria George
Director of Photography: Elise Lanigan

Kia Mau Festival

In the centre of Aotearoa, a gathering of musicians from across the fifteen islands of the Cook Islands will heat up the stage of the Michael Fowler Centre in Pōneke.
A collection of treasured musicians will bring their instruments to the stage – from the community halls, family homes, backyard gatherings and garage parties, this special night of Cook Islands String Bands tells the story of Te Moana Nui a Kiva. A story of ‘Avaiki Nui, the beautiful Cook Islands.
For one night only, we journey across time and ocean to explore the history of Cook Islands string bands and the songs that have provided the soundtrack to moments throughout our lives. ‘Avaiki Nui Social is created by Faipoto Aporo, Jarome, Tuaratini and Jarcinda Stowers-Ama, The Raro Dog, Te Hau Winitana, Taungaroa Emile and Mīria George.

VENUE: Michael Fowler Centre

DATE: Sat 10th June 2023

TIME: 7pm

PRICES: $10 – $45


Music Performed by: Faipoto Aporo and Jarome

Co-Producer: Tanya Muagututi’a
Set Design by: Horrobin & Hodge
Lighting Design by: James Kearney
AV by: Delainy Kennedy
Image by: Robert George, The Raro Dog

Music , Theatre ,

2 hours including a 15 minute interval

Huge source of cultural pride and happiness for many.

Review by Nancy Catherine Fulford 12th Jun 2023

Outside it is cold enough for scarves and hats, darkness bringing with it the dampness of June. Step into the Michael Fowler Centre and you are a world away. The stage is framed with jurassic sized fernery and palms. The digital backdrop, an evolving landscape of flowers common to all corners of the picturesque Cook Islands: tiare, tipani (frangipani) and hibiscus that move as though a balmy breeze is disturbing them ever so slightly. The stage smoke coming through the atmospheric lighting must surely be mist rolling off the central peak of Rarotonga, so tropical is the environ. My shoulders drop into relaxation mode. How lucky am I on this cold winter’s night to find an oasis in the heart of Wellington. Now we are well ready to be transported through the promised journey through the history of string bands in the Cook Islands. And WOW did they deliver.

Our gracious Takitua (Storyteller), Tuaratini speaks with warmth and clarity about the journey we are about to embark on together this evening. But of course, we pause for a blessing.

Instantly we are enlivened with a fast beat drum sequence on traditional carved wooden drums. Happily I could hear the Cabin Bread tin drum in there as well. As often seen with Cook Islands String Bands, the performers are in matching floral print shirts excepting the youngest drummer who is in traditional costume of pandanis grasses, shells and brightly coloured feathers. The audience is thrilled to see him rise and begin to move. The energy and pace has been set. We’re on our way.

We meet four actors who convey to us in a scene of playful banter the important relationship young people have had with the String Bands, their anticipation and connection to this aspect of their culture. They return to the stage at different times in the historical timeline, providing a dramatic link and anchor into time and place. Their use of their language and the place names bring the show closer to its purpose of transporting us to the Cooks to be steeped in its music.

String Bands in the Cook Islands go back to the 1940’s. Their iconic sound, a combination of voice, Ukulele, guitar and drums, have long been carriers of the history and language of these fifteen beautiful Islands set in the biggest and deepest Ocean in the world our, Takitua reminds us. We meet band after band and every single one is unique unto itself, different in flavour and presentation. And every song of every band elicits a visible response from audience members: swaying, singing along, standing to dance and hard out boogie-ing in the isles. Through some of the songs, skilled dancers moved up to the front and danced for us. It was never long enough. Some had prepared a group choreography to surprise loved ones on the stage. Everywhere was a sense of connection, recognition and a joyful exuberance. It was highlighted by one of our many musical cultural guides, (it felt as though everyone on stage who spoke shared responsibility for this role) that we were part of event that was specific to the Cook Islands alone. It was evident this innovation was a huge source of cultural pride and happiness for many.

There were just so many stand-out moments across the evening, it is a hard to cover them all. Certainly, there was a whole lot of love for Brother Love, but so too for Jarome, The Wanderers and Ardijah who took us all captive to the moon and back. How wonderful that one of the current band members was the baby way back, 40 years ago, when this legendary waka first pushed off the musical shores into the lagoon presumably for starters.

Having once lived in the Cook Islands I was thrilled to hear of this event but had no idea I could be made so happy in one evening! I realized too, the many cultural gaps there were in my knowledge and understanding of the rich musical history of this nation that has consistently punched way above its weight on the performing arts front at home and around the world. I hope we are lucky enough to see an event of this kind again in the future and that more people living in Aotearoa have the opportunity to come to understand the richness of the musical traditions of our close neighbours in the Pacific.

Meitki Maata to all the industrious people involved in producing this stunning event. The designers and production team who added so much with lighting, sound and set. The skilled storywriters, directors, producers and promotors who made it happen. A special shout out to the George Family who have contributed so much to the cultural landscape of The Cooks. It was a great gift to all who attended and will keep me warm on the inside at least, for a long time to come.


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