Melodownz reclaims his Ngāpuhi roots through 'Waiata Anthems'

By Kayne Ngātokowhā Peters

Kiwi rap star Melodownz is grabbing hold of his Māori roots through his music as a part of the Waiata Anthems kaupapa.

Melodownz (aka Bronson Price) dropped Pai, the reo Māori version of his waiata Fine, this month and the journey of remaking the song not only opened him up to the Māori language but it also reconnected him to his Māori ancestry.

"I never thought in a thousand years I'd be rapping in our indigenous tongue. It's almost as if our ancestors wanted that," Melodown says.

"So I just feel like I'm a vessel you know. Knowing where you're from is just so special.

"You can go to Japan and you're gonna be the only Māori or the only Samoan there, so just knowing that and knowing how much power our ancestors and our tūpuna had and just knowing where they come from and that they're looking over us as we speak,

"I think that's a very powerful thing to take on and just live life like that bro. It's just a vibe."

Waiata Anthem series 

Following on from the Waiata Anthems album which debuted in 2019 and reached the No 1 slot in the country, a docuseries following seven of the artists has been produced by Notable Pictures and Raukatauri Productions.

Along with Melowdownz, the Māori Television series features Drax Project, Katchafire’s Logan Bell, Bic Runga, Che Fu, Annie Crummer, Hollie Smith and Don McGlashan.

Each episode tracks the artist's path, through the origin of the song to its translation into te reo Māori - exploring how the waiata came to be.

Each episode then ends with a powerful live performance.

Hoki atu ki te kāinga

 The Waiata Anthems docuseries project saw Melodownz head to his marae for the first time in his life. 

"Yeah it's my first time on my marae, my maunga," he says. 

"I'm just soaking it in really, meeting new family members. It's quite a significant part of my life. So I'm just privileged to be a part of this whole kaupapa."

Waiata Anthems producer Hinewehi Mohi says it was heartwarming to see Melodownz meet his whānau from Kaikohe.

"Na tēnei, ka toro atu te whānau ki Ngāpuhi ki te tama nei ki te hoki atu ki te kāinga. Na reira i hoki atu ia ki Kaikohe, ki te tūtaki te katoa o tōna whānau he nui, te nui o tōna whānau, ki te rongo anō hoki te wairua o te papakāinga."

(Because of this, our team reached out to Ngāpuhi and Melodownz to go back to his land. And so he was able to go back to Kaikohe to meet his whānau. There are heaps of them. And so he could feel the spirit of where he is from}.

Melodownz at One Love

Melodownz says the first time he performed his waiata Pai was at One Love.  Even though he felt the fear, once he dropped it, he says the crowd's energy exploded.

"I've always known I'm Māori but because I got raised more on my Samoan side, my more Kiwi street from Avondale, that's all I knew, but I always knew I was Māori, he says.

"I just didn't have the opportunity to be like 'Man I need to go here and meet these people'. So when it presented itself, I'm just like 'Man it's a calling from my tūpuna'. And so that was a real blessing to be able to step foot in my marae for the first time and when I did I just felt this powerful special thing, spiritual thing.

"All I can say was it was very powerful, uplifting and very empowering for my spirit."

The Waiata Anthems docuseries will air on Māori Television next week, celebrating Te Marama Puoro o Aotearoa - New Zealand Music Month.