Kiko – Waharoa: 13th Floor EP Review

The long awaited EP Waharoa reaches us today from Māori rock legends Kiko. I’ve given it a good listen and with some trepidation will share one man’s thoughts.

Kiko launched their debut EP in late 2018, since then they’ve been establishing a presence on the festival circuit. Back in September they released the single Āwhā, (our song of the day at the time), a foretaste of this EP complete with a slick video.

KikoAs of today we have the full package of 5 tracks and I can report they continue to bring the thunder. This is a heart on sleeve guitar thumping, head pumping wail of a time. The arrangements are ambitious, the sound big, bringing metal-esque gothic transitions using arresting rhythms and key changes to pump the tracks forward.

Rewi McLay’s vocals provide a strong foundation, nice and stable with a Steven Tyler type scratch on the higher notes without losing stability which is a satisfying thing in my book.

The musicianship is impressive with complex sequences feeling nice and tight with that driving bass and drums. Dark brooding, almost monastic vocal harmonies carry us through the minor key – the videos also reflect this aesthetic with lots of darkness, fire and moonlit, sweat slicked torsos.

Shreddy guitar solos of course are center stage and I get the sense that having fun is an important aspect of this work as well. There is of course a serious message in the mission – The EP is mostly in Te Reo and even if you don’t speak Te Reo (like me), you can hear the love of the language in the delivery. The ambition of the band to see Te Reo and by extension Māori culture, celebrated and revitalised is front and center in the work and that’s a pretty noble goal for a rock band. Indeed, they aspire to empower indigenous people around the world. Indigenous languages and cultures are a precious resource and so anything that is being done to protect them against the homogenous creep of globalization, I say YES!

It strikes me too that it’s also quite brave, given that in all likelihood, a work in Te Reo is less likely to be a commercially lucrative given relatively small market here in Aotearoa in contrast to the English speaking market locally and internationally. It got me thinking about my music listening habits and to what extent I have non-English language content in there – particularly indigenous languages, and how these impact on my experience of the music.

Its certainly a small percentage of my playlist, (though I can report I’ve had a lovely foray into African and Marimba bands recently!) My conclusions – I love these tracks the most. Languages I don’t speak, enhance the atmosphere somehow and give a distinct musical flavour, no matter the genre or how ‘traditional’ the artist is seeking to be. Of course music transcends language, so ultimately it is still able to communicate powerfully, even if the listener doesn’t speak the language themselves. While I may have missed some of the core explicit messages in these tracks from Kiko, the implicit message was transmitted powerfully to me. The love of Māori culture and the pride the band shares in who they are as well as the call for others to walk this same path with their art and their lives.

It’s a great EP, and we’re lucky to have this work. It’s faithful it the genre and while it’s historically not a genre I love, I had a great time listening to it, I recommend you take the time to listen too. If you hurry you might even have time to grab tickets for their launch party in Auckland at Gelatos on K Rd this evening (Friday 15th), where the band will perform the tracks on the EP, I believe the light show is worth the entry price alone!

Eddie George Kitchin.