(From the Herald, New Zealand daily, 2 October 1999.)
World Cup Divas
HINEWEHI MOHI's singsong
voice comes down the line from London almost breathless with excitement.
A lot has been happening since she arrived there six weeks ago to push Oceania, her collaboration with composer-producer Jaz Coleman which has delivered an album where, led by Mohi's sweet voice, traditional Maori waiata, chants, haka and instruments echo over gently drifting electronic rhythms. Think Ngati Enya, or Deep Kauri Forest.
Mohi says that yes, that old-world name and the breathy, padded sound can make it sound to New Zealand ears a bit new agey and waiata-as-World Music.
"I had very mixed feelings about the name they came up with. My reaction was kind of quizzical - it wasn't anything I could relate to. But up here it seems to be, 'Oh yeah, that makes sense.'
"I wanted a Maori name because all the lyrics are in Maori. It would be really cool to have a Maori name ... but it seems that if they want the album to do commercially well over here, then they have to go with something that Europeans can relate to."
They'll start relating soon. The album is out there on October 11, released through Point Music for which Coleman (the sometime New Zealand resident, classically trained former frontman of British post-punk outfit Killing Joke) has recorded a series of rock-classics-for-orchestra collections. Oceania is out locally now.
Mohi is talking a few days out from an appearance on BBC breakfast television, having recently played promotional dates in Germany. With a line-up which includes two backing vocalists and six haka blokes, Oceania play before the All Blacks-England match at Twickenham.
Mohi is also our musical contribution to the Rugby World Cup album Land of Our Fathers, in duet with Welshman Bryn Terfel. Though Oceania was originally due out a year ago - held up by the takeover of Point's now-owner Universal of the Polygram label - the album should benefit from the All Blacks' prominence at the tournament.
"The timing is good because everyone has got that millennium thing happening as well as this Rugby World Cup, so everyone is excited about it," she says. It's bringing all of that mania to this part of the world."
Yes, a lot is happening and she's happy to be caught up in the Oceania's tidal swirl for now.
"To be honest, when it comes to music I am not terribly ambitious. It's only because Jaz has pushed me and has shown me it's really important that if I want the Maori language to be used and to be appreciated and enjoyed for the beauty of it, I need to actually do this.
"I appreciate it's a means to an end in terms of having a desire to have my music heard because I've done umpteen recordings which are still sitting on shelves in New Zealand."
Like former St Joseph's Maori Girls schoolmate and onetime bandmate Moana Maniapoto - of Moana and the Moa Hunters - Mohi's music has fitted in with other career paths. Graduating from Waikato University in Maori studies, she worked as a researcher for the Alcoholic Liquor Advisory Council and was a television director and presenter for TVNZ Maori programmes.
And in recent years she's been a mother too - her three-year-old daughter Hineraukatauri has cerebral palsy. It's an experience, she says, which has informed her songwriting.
"When my daughter was born I was in a bad way, and Jaz said to use this time to write music because it will really come from my heart, and it will be great therapy also to express myself through my music. So I started coming up with concepts. I knew at that time I wasn't really thinking very straight. Once I got through that initial time it was just flowing out, oozing out."
Her time in London as allowed Hineraukatauri to attend the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre. It looks like Mohi will be dividing her time between home and London for the foreseeable future.
Funnily enough, Oceania just might get Mohi recognised in her homeland at long last - as the woman from that video which will be on high rotate during the World Cup coverage, the one in the forest (it was shot in Epping in case you thought the flora looked funny) with all that hair.
"The fountain of hair," she laughs, "phony, phony phony right down to the fingernails. It's all part of the image. I'm not real good at image either. I just want to go home and slop around Three Guys in the slippers but I don't suppose I will be allowed to do that any more."