Singer-songwriter Em-haley Walker, who performs as Theia, is a finalist in this year’s Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards in Single of the Year, Best Pop Artist, and People’s Choice Award categories. She’s pictured with her kui ( grandmother) Rangirara Rob
“It was the first and only time I was able to go there with my kui. It was her brother’s 80th and she had invited me to come with her. We went to all of our marae and it was amazing having her show me where she grew up. She grew up on Tauranganui Marae – a beautiful, picturesque marae on the banks of the Waikato river – in an army hut, from what I’ve been told. Her mother, Mite Kerei Kukutai, was a renowned composer. There was a garden that’s no longer there; they lived off the land. In the off-season, they’d be in Kaikohe and various other places with the muster, so they kind of lived with the seasons. That was until she was about 14.
It was amazing meeting her older brother and also her sister. I studied and learnt the language at university; my kui was raised in Te Reo Māori. It was such a rare opportunity to sit and hear Te Reo being spoken and to speak with the aunties, and Kui, in Te Reo, was really beautiful.
It was such a sacred and poignant moment that I didn’t want any photos taken – I didn’t want to kind of, break, that moment – but I’m so glad some were taken, because it was the first and only time I would get to be there with her.
Her capacity for loving was unreal. She was very tiny, short in stature, but huge in heart. She was very funny, and her laugh would resonate as the Māori laugh does… She was very hospitable – whoever she met, they’d always be greeted with a huge hug. She was full of knowledge, but very humble. You had to wait for the right moment – she’d only say what she felt.
Her birthday was the week before she passed, and on her birthday, she watched the Roam video. It was filmed in Kāwhia, part of the Tainui region, and not too far from Port Waikato.
She was such a huge supporter of mine. She always told me I was beautiful, and that was really amazing because, I’m sure like every girl does, you struggle with your self-esteem. So that was so cool, because I thought she was most beautiful and sweet and quietly confident person I knew.
At her tangi, I didn’t really say anything, because I found it so hard. But I sang Whakaaria Mai, which is How Great Thou Art in Te Reo. We did a haka as she was going into the ground. Britt Mann