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This year’s Te Matatini is set to be one of the biggest in its history. (Image: Tina Tiller/ Te Matatini)
This year’s Te Matatini is set to be one of the biggest in its history. (Image: Tina Tiller/ Te Matatini)

ĀteaFebruary 21, 2023

A beginner’s guide to Te Matatini 2023

This year’s Te Matatini is set to be one of the biggest in its history. (Image: Tina Tiller/ Te Matatini)
This year’s Te Matatini is set to be one of the biggest in its history. (Image: Tina Tiller/ Te Matatini)

After a four year hiatus, and 21 years since it was last held in Tāmaki Makaurau, kapa haka competition Te Matatini is back. Here’s everything you need to know. 

Often described as the Olympics of kapa haka, the trajectory of Te Matatini since its inception 51 years ago has been coloured by transformation. It’s overseen an ever-changing approach to performance, sound and costume in the world of kapa haka. What started as the New Zealand Polynesian Festival in 1972, among the geothermal wonders of Whakarewarewa in Rotorua, has grown into a state-of-the-art biennial festival that’s hosted by a different iwi each time.

Renamed Te Matatini – “the many faces” – in 2004, the event now sees the cream of the crop of kapa haka teams battle over four days to be crowned Toa Whakaihuwaka, the champions of Te Matatini. 

This year’s event, held in Tāmaki Makaurau, kicks off today with a pōwhiri at Ōkahu Bay from this year’s hosts, Ngāti Whātua ki Ōrākei. The competition starts tomorrow.

Te Rōpū Manutaki (2019) (Photo: Te Matatini)

While the impacts of the pandemic meant that the 2021 event was postponed, the last Te Matatini festival, hosted by Te-Whānganui-ā-Tāra in 2019, set a new bar for the event’s growing status as a world-class festival. Around 60,000 people attended across the four days, international media were there, and an audience of 1.1 million watched on television or via livestream.

Four years later, the event is being held at the biggest stadium in our most populous city. Whether you’re a seasoned Te Matatini buff or a complete newcomer – here’s what you need to know about Te Matatini 2023.

How do I attend the festival?

It’s been more than two decades since Te Matatini was last held in Tāmaki Makaurau, and this year it will be held at Ngā Ana Wai – Eden Park from Wednesday to Saturday.

Day passes cost between $35 and $50, while four-day passes cost between $110 and $300. Tickets are available here. Gates open at 7am, with an 8am karakia and the first performance for each day at 8.15am. A marketplace area will include kai, Māori business, and cultural and creative stalls.

A ticket to Te Matatini allows you free travel on public trains and buses in and around the Auckland City area. Free travel will run daily from two hours before event start times until the end of scheduled services.

There is no public parking available on site. However free parking is available at ASB Showgrounds in Greenlane, Wednesday to Friday and at Western Springs College in Western Springs on Saturday. Buses will depart to and from these sites to Eden Park every 15 minutes from 5.30am to 7.30pm.

Motai Tangata Rau 2019 (Photo: Te Matatini)

Can I still watch if I can’t attend in person?

Absolutely. If you can’t make it to the festival, it will be live on TVNZ (the first time it has been broadcast by TVNZ in 20 years). All four days will be available to stream live on the TVNZ+ website and it will be broadcast live for television viewers on TVNZ 2. 

Television viewers will be able to watch the performances live and tune in to Te Matatini’s Haka Translate service to hear translations and the meaning of compositions of all the waiata in English. On the last day, Haka Translate will be available in five additional languages: Mandarin, Tongan, Samoan, Fijian and Cook Island Māori, via the Matatini Festival app.

Who is competing?

Forty-five teams from across the country, including one Australian team, are competing this year. Each kapa haka group has 40 onstage performers. The groups that have made it to Te Matatini have already competed and won at one of 13 regional kapa haka competitions out of a total pool of 163 teams. You can view the schedule of performances here.

How is the competition structured?

The first three days – Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – consist of performances in three competitive pools. Only the top three groups in each pool will qualify to compete on the finals day on Saturday, which is called Te Matangirua. The nine groups that will perform on finals day will be announced on Friday evening.

What makes up each kapa haka performance bracket?

A bracket is made up of six compulsory disciplines, with each group given 25 minutes to perform. The items that make up a bracket are:

  • Waiata tira: Groups are given an extra four minutes to perform waiata tira as it isn’t a compulsory discipline. Often used as a warm up for the group’s voices and to settle nerves, this one is a choral-like song that’s either newly composed or uses the familiar tune of a pre-existing piece of music. In other words, if you hear something that sounds eerily similar to a Beyonce or Rihanna tune – your ears are probably not deceiving you! 
  • Whakaeke: If a group bypasses the waiata tira, this is where the group takes the stage for the first time. The whakaeke often includes polished waiata, haka, movement and instruments from the group as an expression of who they are, where they are from and what their purpose is.
  • Mōteatea: The unbroken rhythmic chanting of mōteatoa is perhaps the most traditional item within a kapa haka performance. Most often they’re used to convey lamentations, farewells and emotions around loss. Unlike other waiata performed on stage, mōteatea is unique in that the tune doesn’t adopt Western melody and harmony.
  • Waiata-ā-ringa: Embellished by the use of wiri, the action song emphasises the hands, face, body and eyes. While lyrics would have traditionally been chanted, this has evolved into more melodious songs accompanied by movement.
  • Poi: The rhythmic twirls and flutters of a poi often mimic elements of the environment – like water, insects or birds. An effortless poi performance is as much a thing of beauty as it is an absolute slay.
  • Haka: Perhaps one of the most anticipated elements of a bracket, groups often use the haka to make a statement on current events, politics, issues within Te Ao Māori and challenges faced by Māori.
  • Whakawātea: This item is essentially the finale for the group and allows them to make a final statement, reinforce what they came to do and to thank the event’s hosts.

Who are the groups to watch?

Everyone is in it to win it at Te Matatini. And the success of the previous winners, Ngā Tumanako, is proof of this. Hailing from West Auckland, Ngā Tumanako had never placed in the top three prior to 2019 and yet, they ended up winning on the most competitive Kapa Haka stage in the world. If you’re keen to brush up on the competition that went down in 2019, this Youtube account has videos of every performance from the last festival. If you’re after some complimentary viewing content before or after the festival, both the TVNZ documentary series The Road to Te Matatini and the three seasons of Whakaata Māori’s Haka at Home make ideal additions to a week of kapa haka excellence.

Keep going!