Revolutions at the Spiegeltent, Aotea Square, 9 March 2017

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It’s only Day 2 of the 2017 Auckland Arts Festival and I am in shock. Confused. ‘Why’ keeps pounding in my head. Let me explain.

Last night I filed in to the Speigeltent in the centre of Aotea Square at 7 pm to witness what I can only call a Magic Moment in the annals of Aoteoroa’s music. Four of our best: Warren Maxwell, Rob Ruha, Jon Toogood and Moana Maniapoto, were together on stage for the first of two fleeting nights, the second being tonight at 9.30 in the same venue.

I had loved the write up for Revolutions in the Festival programme: “Songwriters are by nature revolutionaries, spreading their light and insight with each journey round the sun…what is the most important thing an artist needs to say? What is it we need to hear?”

This is the true driver of any of the best offerings of the Arts World to humankind: a call to arms in the sense of waking us up from our often tuned-out daily grind, to stimulate us to see the bigger picture, to hear the sounds that move us in new ways, towards deeper passions within ourselves reflected back to us by the work of the artist-sage-carer-leader. All of this and much more, was on stage and in surround-sound in the Speigeltent last night. It’s creativity that makes the audience inspired and excited and it’s an unmissable offering in this Festival.

So why was the space only half full? Why was this musical taonga not being lapped up by so many that the tent walls were bulging with onlookers?

As it was, those lucky enough to be present seemed to fill the space with their appreciation. The buzz of the crowd as we all left, was unmistakeable.

What makes it even more memorable is the fact that these four artists have never worked together until this Festival assignment. What will be the musical progeny from any future collaborations they may now undertake? I suggest you move mountains to get to the final show tonight to witness the intangible magic of the show and then watch this space for more from them.

In fact the charmingly disarming Jon Toogood, whose warmth and genuine commentary really brings the audience in to him, proffered that “This has been the best week of my life, creatively,” and then explained the early premise for the show: “We were asked to throw five songs in that we were each proud of and that had a solid message about the way we each see the world. So we threw them in, deconstructed them and put them back together.” The way he described it matched with the sense of organic fresh creativity that pulsed through each piece in the set. You can see the set list below for the rich pickings from each of the artist’s choices.

For me, the highlights were too many to detail each one here, so I will focus on a selection to give you a tempting taster to get along tonight.

I loved Warren Maxwell’s opener Pendulum. His acoustic guitar was as lyrical as his vocals, which were infused with “the hope that the individual materialism pendulum will swing back towards community and communal values.” All four artists were seated on stage and all were drinking in his solo husky voice, so perfect for the dream society he sang in to being for that beauteous fleeting number. It was a mark of the leadership present on stage- a brave choice for the first song because it was quiet, thoughtful, meditative opener, signalling the space these four wished to impart to us, in the audience. The quiet harmonies from Moana and Jon and Rob, and Jon on exquisitely played bass, perfectly offset the whole number.

This flowed in to Rob’s offering of Ponga Ra, introduced by Rob as a song “written against the reckless government-sanctioned confiscation of lands” in Aoteoroa’s sorry past. It had a contrasting upbeat reggae feel which underlined the power of the lyrics, imploring people to take action:

“When will you decide to stand with me/Cos the skies are getting darker?” Such lines are so apt right now: you need only think of Standing Rock in America and the stand for #NoDAPL.

Then came Moana saying “I’m gonna have a bit of a bash. This is a song I wrote in the ’90’s after the Fiscal Envelope debacle,” when the then- government tried to minimise Treaty payments with a dastardly scheme that would have pitted iwi against iwi. Listening to her powerful Wahine energy in the lyrics of Treaty: “Our people are our future/ And our future’s in our own hands,” I could only feel deep gratitude for the Moanas of our land, willing to stand and speak up, just as she and Jane Kelsey did last year with such dedication, to register the need to stop the  murky TPPA . What gifts she offers this country, not least her courage and her evocative voice.

Then came Jon with a Shihad song he wrote, Waiting Around for God. I would love to discuss each of the songs but will jump here to perhaps my highlight of the night from Jon when he sang his version of Dylan’s Masters of War.  It was thrilling in its power and commitment to highlight the iniquities of human society from the last decades and I saw the raw bleeding talent and heart of Jon still present in his vital powerful voice and work.

The same could be said of all the musicians and of all that they offered up last night.

If you can do anything to get hold of a ticket to tonight’s 9.30 show, don’t miss it. A special night of Kiwi talent at its finest. I can only hope that they will one day commit this combined work to an album.

Liz Gunn

Tickets for tonight show are available HERE.