Maori Rat Pack share flair

Central Leader - - FRONT PAGE - By JESS LEE

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.

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