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Welsh-language and Māori musicians take centre stage

3 May 2023

A singer stands on stage and sings in the foreground with a guitar player in the background
The band Half/Time perform

Welsh-language music and the Māori punk scene will be explored as part of an international research project.

Academics from Cardiff University are collaborating with colleagues at the University of Waikato in New Zealand to find points of connection between te reo Māori (the Māori Language), te ao Māori (the Māori world/world view) and Welsh-language culture through the lens of grassroots music.

Musicians from both Cymru (Wales) and Aotearoa (New Zealand) will be brought together, kicking off at the forthcoming FOCUS Wales festival, where Māori band Half/Time are set to perform alongside Welsh bands, including CHROMA, Adwaith and Lemfreck. Researchers will also be there interviewing artists about their experiences.

Dr Elen Ifan, based at Cardiff University’s School of Welsh, explained: “It’s a musical exchange as well as an opportunity to gather and share thoughts about what it means to perform music in a minority language. We will be interviewing musicians and creative practitioners, as well as analysing songs as cultural texts as part of the research.

“We hope this project will be of real benefit to up-and-coming musical talent in both Cymru and Aotearoa.”

As well as academic research, there will also be a creative aspect to the project, with an Instagram profile that will act as a collaborative digital journal. This will allow artists and researchers to explore the themes of the project through film, text and images.

Later in the year, academics and one Welsh language artist  will travel to Aotearoa with a member of Focus Wales to gain first-hand experience of the emerging Māori punk music scene and develop further collaboration with academics at Waikato University. There will be an open call for musicians to apply for the opportunity later in the year.

Dr Joseph O’Connell, based at Cardiff University’s School of Music, said: “The Welsh language saw a huge regeneration in younger generations through the DIY music scene of the Eighties and Nineties and again more recently with artists like Adwaith and Gwenno gaining recognition across the world.

“The Māori punk music scene is relatively new in Aotearoa, and we’d like to show our support of the movement through this exciting international exchange. Although thousands of miles apart, there is much that both cultures can learn from each other.”

A singer stands on stage and sings in the foreground with a guitar player in the background
The band Half/Time perform

Wairehu Grant, guitarist with Half/Time, who is conducting his PhD on the creative and ideological crossovers between Māori and punk culture at the University of Waikato, said: “As someone who is still in the process of relearning te reo Māori, music has proven to be a powerful tool for engaging with the language of my whakapapa (ancestors) through performance and collaboration. It has helped to shift my headspace from one of embarrassment over my lack of knowledge, to one of hope and excitement for all that I have yet to learn.

“I'm really looking forward to hearing more on the experiences of musicians in Cymru and the ways in which music has enabled the members of this panel to engage or reengage with their mother tongue.”

Andy Jones, Co-Founder & Music Programmer, FOCUS Wales said: “We're so pleased to be hosting Half/Time as part of FOCUS Wales 2023 in Wrexham. This feels like in important early part of the process as we embark on this learning journey and cultural exchange between our music community here in Wales and the Māori music community in New Zealand.

“We believe there is so much to be gained from this project which we hope can enrich our respective music communities moving forward, and it's a privilege for FOCUS Wales to be able to play our part alongside Cardiff University, and other partners.”

In 2021, Cardiff University and the University of Waikato signed a strategic partnership, to foster improved links between the two institutions.

A panel discussion about language, identity and creativity in Welsh and Māori grassroots music takes place on 11 May.

Half/Time’s visit to Cymru was made possible thanks to funding from the British Council.

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