She’s a producer, promoter, artist, musician, māmā and more. It might seem like a pick’n’mix career but Huia Hamon wouldn’t have it any other way. Today, a decade on from her first solo album, she dons her musician pōtae to release Āio, a te reo Māori EP about peace, knowledge and self-reflection.
When Huia Hamon released her debut te reo Māori album, Huia’s Waiata, almost a decade ago, some in the music world found her sound a bit bizarre. Mixing electronic drum and bass with te reo was still a very new thing.
Since then she has delivered two more solo albums, produced award-winning Tātou Tātou E collective (version 1 – version 5) and has performed at a plethora of festivals, bringing her blend of English and te reo Māori music into the mainstream.
“I remember the iwi stations would share my Māori songs, but no other media got it,” she says. “There was once an attitude in New Zealand music that we only speak English; anything Māori didn’t get airplay on other stations.
“Things are changing and with the next generation coming through, they are bringing their culture and language to their music, helping the transition.”
Hamon first started performing at 2 years old. She was that child who entertained whānau visitors, sang in school assembly, performed in kapa haka and productions and, lip synced.
Creativity was in her blood. Grandfather Rei Hamon was a renowned artist, her mother, a poet.
After school she completed a Diploma in Music Production and a Bachelors Degree in Communications, Marketing and Media, adding to the talent pool. Weaving her skills together, she identified a need for cost effective promotion for musicians. So, with an aim to empower artists, she founded Integrity Promotions to look after the PR and management of performers, including Chong Nee and Pieter T, to name a few.
Hidden away in the Waitakere ranges, Hamon set up an additional space at home for her art practice: painting, freestyle pencil work and mixed media. It is here that she also records alongside husband Chris Chetland, the highly noted mix engineer of Kog Studio – the label that defined New Zealand electronic music in the late 90s – engineering and producing from their “boss as” studio.
“I’ve done lots of stuff,” Hamon laughs as we discuss her colourful career. “I’ve lived through lots of stuff, too.”
It is this ebb and flow of her life journey that informs her own music and influences her writing.
“I don’t write songs to become famous,” she says adamantly. “It’s a fun thing to do when I have time to create. My music is about the messages, the sound.”
After having her second child in 2017, the sleep deprivation called for a bit of ‘creative me-time’, so Hamon penned a new EP.
Āio, released today, is a milestone album marking 10 years since her first solo release. It also marks a significant step in her te reo Māori journey.
“When I first started releasing Māori music it was about relearning te reo. I grew up with bits and pieces of our language, like many of my generation. My nan was fluent and I would kōrero with her, but not with certainty.”
She remembers writing the tracks of Huia’s Waiata in English, then enlisting a skilled translator so they could be recorded in te reo. The new album, however, proudly proclaims Hamon’s confidence in her reo ability: she wrote the entire EP in te reo Māori with the support of Lois McIver.
Teaming up with bi-lingual hip hop artist Rei, who provides the electro-haka beats, Āio is about inner peace and self-reflection, the core of Hamon’s songwriting style.
“This album is the light to the dark,” she says, remembering times of loss and grief. “It is me being really content with being a mum of two boys and, a fresh start to my creativity in this space.”
The album is described as ‘barefoot’, synth rich and lyrically heavy, with deep bass and silky ambience. The 5-track EP includes waiata about personal value, mātauranga and whakapapa, contentment and love and, internal conflict and growth, with messages about mental health.
The album’s title track, Āio, is about peace. But it also comes with some hard hitting whakaaro.
“People are going on about kaitiakitanga but the earth doesn’t need humans. It’s the other way around. Nature doesn’t need protecting, it needs respect,” says Hamon. “There is pollution, plastic, all that shit we are late in waking up to. Koia kei nga Atua, they are the elements, they exist whether we are here or not, they will live on when we’re gone.
“Āio is what we strive for in our own minds, āio is what nature is calling for and, āio is what the world needs.”
The making of this album came from a desire to get more of her art off her laptop and into the world. And Hamon wants to encourage other artists to do the same. She says musicians should stop waiting for a big break and just continue to make music.
“As soon as you chase the fame game it gets really hard, because then you compromise and don’t create what you want. With the amount of music saturation today, you just need to write what you want to write, in your style, in your language. Being number one is a big illusion, just get your message and your music out there.”
Āio is released today. If you purchase the EP you will be invited to Hamon’s personal art page where you can download images and kōrero which were created at the same time as the album.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.