International pūoro musician brings his award-winning skills back home

By Marena Mane

Jerome Kavanagh is part of a movement introducing Māori music, art, and culture to the world but he's home again with big plans.

He first started by sharing his knowledge of pūoro with kōhanga and kura in his hometown in Taumarunui. Then he travelled to South America to learn about indigenous music relate to pūoro and ended up in the UK where he became part of a Grammy Award-winning composition.

Now he plans to invest his skills at home and will take up a new residency in Wellington.

His music Kia hora te marino featured in Christopher Tin's award-winning classical crossover album, Calling All Dawns. It went on to win a Grammy Award in 2011.

Surviving colonisation

Kavanagh recalls meeting Tin for the first time, “He was working with London Philharmonic Orchestra creating a contemporary classical piece or album around languages that had survived the test of colonisation. He wanted to work with Māori and then I was really lucky to connect with him. We went and recorded in Abbey Road Studio alongside the Queen's band, the London Philharmonic Orchestra.”

Kavanagh has also performed abroad with political singer Moana Maniapoto (also of Maori TV fame) and the London-based Māori cultural group Ngāti Ranana.

The Mokai Pātea, Ngāti Maniapoto and Ngāti Kahungunu descendant is moving from the glitz and glam of entertainment to performing in nature to all the animals of the land and sea.

YouTube videos reveal Kavanagh playing the pūoro and attracting animals like the kekeno (seal) and manu (birds).

Birds tweet back

“It's a beautiful tohu (sign), it's happened quite a lot throughout my time. Just being in those natural places, the animals and they come. They sort of have a little connection or they talk back to you. They can hear that and feel that.”

Kavanagh’s passion for taonga pūoro first started with his kuia.

“One of my memories was when my Nan was having a feed of Bubu's she would get her toothpick and pop out her kai. She would just say little things to me like ‘this is one of our musical instruments, you can play them,’ so that's kind of where it all started for me.”

“Later on in life I was exposed to the works of Matua Hirini Melbourne and the hau manu.”

Plans for new music are on the horizon.

“I've planned to do two albums, which is really cool. It’s a continuation of my first album, which is called Oro Atua. It's about really using taonga pūoro or reviving taonga pūoro as a healing, a healing sound for our people.”

He'll be starting a new job at Victoria University of Wellington as the Kōkī composer in residence.

“So that's sort of part of succession and sharing with the next generation. I'm gonna be holding regular sound journey sessions, and I'm really looking at getting people into natural spaces and connecting again with the environment.”

He starts his new role on February 28.