A University of Waikato PhD researcher is sharing Māori punk with the world, and strengthening academic connections between New Zealand and Wales in the process.
Wairehu Grant (Ngāti Maniapoto), a third-year PhD student in Screen and Media Studies at Waikato, recently returned from Cymru (Wales), where his te ao Māori-centred punk band Half/Time performed at the international music festival, Focus Wales in Wrexham, alongside more than 250 bands.
“There are a lot of similarities between Welsh and Māori music and culture,” says Wairehu. “We made deep connections with musicians, community organisers and other locals in both Wales and England."
Wairehu also participated in a panel discussion at Cardiff University, addressing the relationships between creativity and minority languages.
Half/Time’s first overseas tour came about due to a strategic partnership between the University of Waikato and Cardiff University. Launched in 2019, the partnership aims to deliver world-class collaborative research and opportunities for researchers, staff and students in both Universities. One of the first projects to be initiated under the partnership aimed to explore distant connections between te reo Māori, te ao Māori and Welsh language and culture.
Wairehu received a grant of $9000 from the British Council New Zealand to support his trip and connect in person with language revitalisation advocates and like-minded musicians.
Formed during the 2020 lockdown, Half/Time, which performs songs in both te reo Māori and te reo Pākehā (English), stems from Wairehu’s PhD study at Waikato. His research focuses on the creative and ideological crossovers between te ao Māori and punk culture.
What started as a solo act touring New Zealand, grew into a three-piece with Wairehu on guitar, Cee Tepania on bass and Ciara Bernstein on drums.
“Half/Time was the first musical act I’ve ever done that brought te ao Māori into the mix and the first time I wrote music that I wanted,” Wairehu says. “All the songs are about the experience of being Māori in some way shape or form.”
Wairehu’s research is parallel to that of Professor Gareth Schott, one of Wairehu’s PhD supervisors at Waikato. In 2021, Professor Schott co-developed a project called “Musical Language / Iaith Gerddorol / Pūtahitanga” which focuses on language revitalisation through contemporary or popular music, particularly Welsh and te reo Māori.
Professor Schott recognises how contemporary Māori punk serves a similar function to Welsh punk in the late 80s early 90s, bringing the language to music and people that may not connect with it through other means or avenues.
Over the past few years, Professor Schott has facilitated discussions between Wales and New Zealand. In August 2022, he and Wairehu took part in a public event at the National Eisteddfod, opening up the conversation to the Welsh language music scene.
Born in Hamilton, and later settling in Te Awamutu, Wairehu faced uncertainties about pursuing higher education after failing high school.
As the first person in his family to pursue higher education, Wairehu enrolled in a Certificate of University Preparation in 2011 at Waikato, which set him up for academic success.
Wairehu went on to complete his Bachelor of Media and Creative Technologies with Honours in 2016, before pursuing postgraduate study with the support of the University of Waikato Doctoral Scholarship.
The partnership between Waikato and Cardiff universities has seen many exciting research collaborations. Most recently, Associate Professor Nicola Daly from Waikato and Dr Siwan Rosser from Cardiff received funding to explore how dual language picture books can be used to support Welsh language learning for teachers and students.