Christchurch audience buzzing on Ngā Reo Tīoriori's Māori jazz fusion

By Mana Wikaire-Lewis

Reo Māori jazz band Ngā Reo Tīoriori created a real buzz at the recent Christchurch Big Band Festival in Christchurch.

Band leader and pianist Lisa Davies (Ngāi Tahu) says they’ve translated jazz standards and arranged them for an expanded band.

The experience of the festival itself had Davies in “joyful tears”.

“To feel and hear it come to life in front of such an appreciative audience was just such a buzz for us.”

Davies says there was a mixed but “beautiful” audience in attendance, including Māori who hadn’t experienced live jazz music and Pākehā who had not been immersed in te ao Māori before.  

“From the feedback I got, ahakoa he Māori, ahakoa he Pākehā – there was a way to connect with the show.”


Bringing te ao Māori together with jazz for a unique sound.

'Beauty and emotion'

She also sets her own wero by being the gig MC, done all in te reo Māori.

“Someone told me even though they didn’t understand the words, they could still appreciate the beauty of the language and experience the emotion of the music.”

Davies started it in 2019 after performing at the New Zealand International Jazz & Blues festival, wanting to bring her love of Māori and jazz music together. That culminated in Ngā Manu Tioriori fronting those translated jazz standards.

“We never had so many hōngi and hugs after a gig before so I thought ‘yeap, this is my kaupapa, I have to keep this going’. We now have about 10 musicians within the collective who jump on and off the waka for different performances,” she says.

The band consists of drummer Sam Jones (Te Arawa), bassist Clayton Hiku (Ngāpuhi), trombonists Taurapa (Te Arawa, Te Aupōuri) and Scott Taitoko (Ngāti Maniapoto), saxophonists Tamatoa Tuhou (Ngāti Porou, Tūhoe, Tainui, Ngāti Mutunga) and Julian O’Brien (Ngāpuhi), and manu tīoriori/vocalists Sam Hitchens (Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Porou), Henare Kaa (Ngāti Porou), Byllie-Jean (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Pāhauwera) and Lisa Tui (Ngāti Kahungunu, Tainui).

Te reo Māori and jazz

Davies is a librarian at Waitaha/University of Canterbury by day but aims to have the fusion of the Māori and jazz worlds bring more exposure of te reo Māori into people’s lives, including her own. In return, she learns more of both worlds at the same time.

“I think te reo Māori lends itself really well to the improvised nature of jazz. They make a really nice combo.”

From one gig to another, Ngā Reo Tīoriori will be opening the Jazz & Cabaret Festival in Christchurch on March 22 next year with another reo Māori-immersive show. R&B could be on the cards, Davies says.