Maori Rat Pack share flair
GOLDEN syrup on fresh, hot fried bread. That’s how the Modern Maori Quartet describes its crooning spin on te reo and English classics.
They are the Maori Rat Pack – a group of four musicians dressed in their best, delivering soulful performances as a contemporary salute to classic Maori showbands of the past.
The central Auckland-based group will perform as part of variety show Happy Hour Live, alongside Temuera Morrison this month.
The show, featuring comedy, skits and music, will be taped in front of a live audience at the Mercury Theatre before screening on TV One later in the year.
Newton actor and musician James Tito says the quartet combines acting and music to tell stories.
It was while working as an intern on a show with the Taki Rua theatre company with Mt Eden performer Maaka Pohatu that Tito first had the idea to form a group.
‘‘I saw Maaka on stage kill it with his acting skills and then kill it again with the guitar and singing afterwards,’’ Tito says.
‘‘I just got excited about what we could make together, as basically a Maori Rat Pack.’’
Sandringham performer Matariki Whatarau and Piha musician Francis Kora were soon on board to round out the group.
They received funding back in 2012 to practise together for two weeks in a room, fleshing out what the group could become and had a good response from all who heard their fresh sound, Tito says.
‘‘That’s when we realised we were on to something really special. We’re a contemporary twist on an oldschool crooning era with a bit of Maori cultural flair.’’
Think Frank Sinatra with some kapa haka movements thrown in.
‘‘New Zealand has a rich history of Maori showbands that toured all over the world but that’s been forgotten by a lot of people,’’ Tito says.
The quartet rehearses in a Grey Lynn warehouse on Great North Rd and for the benefit of Tito’s Upper Queen St neighbours.
They see themselves going international in the future but still have their feet firmly on the ground in Aotearoa, Whatarau says.
‘‘International would be awesome but I don’t strive for that any more than I strive to perform at my marae. It’s different but in terms
of importance for me it’s equal.’’
Rat pack: The Modern Maori Quartet performs in a variety show, Happy Hour Live, at the Mercury Theatre, from left: James Tito, Maaka Pohatu, Matariki Whatarau and Francis Kora.
Familiar face: this year.