Language revitalisation through international punk

6 October 2022

Professor Gareth Schott says Māori punk is serving a similar function to Welsh punk in late 80s early 90s, bringing the language to music and people that may not connect with it through mainstream pop music

A misspent youth spent in dive bars and playing in punk bands has been the impetus for a unique collaboration between the University of Waikato and Cardiff University in Wales.

Musicians are exploring the Welsh and Māori language punk music scenes, sharing ideas and learning about the development and incorporation of indigenous languages into music.

Head of Te Kura Toi School of Arts Professor Gareth Schott grew up in Wales and attended Welsh-medium education from an English speaking family. He struggled with the language in school, until the discovery of Welsh punk music brought the language to life for him.

“The Welsh language is very poetic so it’s a bit hard to squeeze it into a punk song so a lot of the bands were using Welsh mixed with English, kind of mashing them together.

It was empowering to hear people who weren’t using perfect Welsh singing it. The music and the culture made the language more accessible to me.”

Schott noticed parallels in his experience and the work that his Waikato University PhD student Wairehu Grant (Ngāti Maniapoto) is currently doing.

“Wairehu is using punk music as a means to reflect. In this way, punk and language revitalisation are coming together for him too.”

Schott says Māori punk is serving a similar function to Welsh punk in late 80s early 90s, bringing the language to music and people that may not connect with it through mainstream pop music.

“In the panel discussion members from both parties talked honestly about the shame attached to not being able to speak a language well but how Music created a desire to use it. Punk has given us all a way to use our language and help us find out who we are within that blend.

“There are obviously also big differences between the two countries that were also interesting to discuss and share on the panel, but Punk has always at its core been about addressing social inequalities, race and gender politics - it still is a vehicle for those issues and it doesn’t matter if you don’t understand the words as you’ll understand the sentiment of punk.”

Schott hopes the collaboration with Cardiff will highlight the role music has in language revitalisation, with the added benefit of putting Māori punk on the international stage – and maybe introducing Welsh punk to a new audience in Aotearoa.

  • In August, Gareth and Wairehau took part in an event at the National Eisteddfod, opening up the conversation to the Welsh language music scene, including Katie Hall the lead singer of Welsh punk band Chroma.

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