Words speak louder than actions for Te Matatini judge

8 February 2013

Matiu Dickson

On the judging panel: Senior Law lecturer Matiu Dickson will be judging at this year's Te Matatini kapa haka festival.

Matiu Dickson has done it all in kapa haka. Spectator, participant, tutor, composer, judge. You name it, he’s done it. Mr Dickson will be joining the judging panel at Te Matatini, the biennial national kapa haka competition being held in Rotorua.

Mr Dickson, a senior lecturer at Te Piringa – Faculty of Law at the University of Waikato, has been involved with kapa haka for more than 35 years. He is of Ngāiterangi and Ngāti Ranginui descent with affiliations to Te Whakatōhea, Ngāti Awa and Ngāti Whakaue. But those loyalties will be put aside later this month when he joins the judging panel at Te Matatini, the biennial national kapa haka competition being held in Rotorua from 20-24 February.

The message behind the words

Mr Dickson will be judging the waiata-ā-ringa (action song) section of the competition and says there are certain things he looks for in assessing each performance.

“The important part is the words and what’s the message being put across. I tend to favour a simple message put across forcefully,” he says. “The actual words that are chosen are also important. A catchy tune helps and then the actions should follow what the words say. Then I look at the quality of the singing.”

The last 10 years have seen a massive improvement in singing quality in kapa haka groups, he says.

“A lot of groups have different styles of singing, with duets or small groups singing more like choral singers than harmonising.”

He also wants to see the performers enjoying singing and showing empathy for the message of the song. “That’s quite important, particularly for songs that are written as poroporoaki (songs for the dead).”

The audience plays a part

Audience appreciation comes into it too, and that means more than just clapping.

“Māori appreciation can be quite different. There can be silence but just because people aren’t clapping doesn’t mean they haven’t enjoyed it.”

Aside from singing quality, Mr Dickson says the standard of choreography has also improved vastly over the years.

“Performances used to follow the traditional pattern of entering a marae but now it’s more entertainment than traditional. Some traditionalists don’t like that but some young people won’t take part unless it’s entertaining.”

He says after 35 years, he still enjoys kapa haka as much as he ever did.

“It brings us together, it allows us to celebrate our individual tribal identities in a friendly, competitive way and it’s one of the most positive examples of cultural expression for Māori.”

The University of Waikato is a strategic partner with Te Matatini which takes place 20-24 February at Rotorua International Stadium. For more information visit the Te Matatini website.

View more information on the University’s involvement at Te Matatini.