Thu, Dec 21, 2017 - Page 13 News List

The 72-hour Austronesian connection

Renowned Maori singer Moana Maniapoto spent three days in the mountains of Hsinchu last week working on and recording a song with Atayal artist Inka Mbing about their respective endangered languages

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

Moana Maniapoto, left, gives Inka Mbing a hongi, a traditional Maori greeting where one presses his or her forehead and nose against that of the recipient.

Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times

Inka Mbing pauses her soft humming and asks Moana Maniapoto to join in the singing.

“I need to work with a live person,” the Aboriginal Atayal artist says after being asked to sing over a recording. “When our voices resonate, that results in an endless outpour of energy that can make the impossible possible. It can lead to new surprises.”

Moana nods and they both start singing softly to the music while facing the same direction, not looking at each other. Suddenly, Inka Mbing lets loose, exploding with a tremendous voice as if she were channeling all her ancestral spirits.

Slowly, the words and imagery start to manifest: “Listen, listen, this is the language that has been passed on for generations … Just as we are constantly breathing, we will make sure our words continue on for eternity.”

It was a whirlwind of a trip for Moana, a New Zealand native whose Maori ancestors are said to have originated in Taiwan.

Communicating through a translator in English and Chinese, the two indigenous women spent three days in the mountains of Hsinchu’s Jianshi Township (尖石), cobbling together a new song with the help of Moana’s producer and electronic musician Paddy Free. By the end of the third day, Inka Mbing was ready to head to Taipei and perform the resulting piece, Toku Reo (“my language” in Maori), in Atayal and Maori, both of which belong to the Austronesian language family.

“I do a lot of improvisation so each time it might come out differently,” Inka Mbing says. “I don’t think we should practice too much otherwise it’ll disrupt the flow.”

Moana agrees. The two proceed to put on a successful “world premiere” of the song this past Sunday during an auction for Father Barry Martinson’s stained glass paintings, which he has sold in the past to help the Aboriginal community which he served.

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Toku Reo will appear on Moana’s latest album, Ono, which means “six” in Maori. The concept entails collaborating with six indigenous female artists in countries that Moana and her band has performed in before. The songs are all based on ancient Maori incantations reworked by Scotty Morrison, who Moana describes as the “best Maori speaker of his generation” and appears on several tracks.

“I record some of my parts, and we create space to let her do whatever she wants — as long as it is in her language,” Moana says.

While Moana knew indigenous singers in Finland, Canada, Australia and Scotland, it took a “great search” with many parties coming together to find Inka Mbing and convince her to take part in the project.

“I really wanted someone from Taiwan because of our special relationship,” she says. “I also know that we share similar experiences in terms of loss of language and colonization. But it’s challenging. We might meet, she might look at me and be like, ‘I don’t know about you.’ But I always have the confidence that if we sit down and talk we’ll find something in common.”

Inka Mbing, 64, had mostly retired from the spotlight after a fruitful career where she defied the tribal taboo of women not being allowed to sing ancient melodies. Nowadays, she mostly keeps to herself in her yoga studio deep in the mountains on a journey of spiritual discovery and coexisting with the land.

Out of several songs Moana provided, Inka Mbing chose Toku Reo, which tells the myth of how the Maori gods created language and prays for the gods to allow the endangered language to flourish once more. It’s fitting, since Ink Mbing spent much of her life trying to keep her Atayal language alive.

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