The life of Prince Tui Teka has resonated with many generations of New Zealanders. But for Dimitry Konovalov of Russia, his deep connection to the Māori musician crosses cultural barriers.
Prince Tui Teka's songs have been anthems for Konovalov and have given the gay man courage to escape persecution from his homeland and inspired the ultimate love letter to his idol.
“From the first few seconds, I fell in love with Prince Tui Teka. I love the Maori expression aroha. It was Tui’s mana that came straight into my soul, into my mind. And since then, I’m the biggest fan of Tui Teka,” he says.
Konovalovfirst came to New Zealand in 2001 to study English and by chance, he discovered the music of the Māori entertainer.
“During my first visit I was browsing in Queens Arcade in Auckland, and there was a record shop. One CD just attracted my attention. There was a big imposing man wearing a funny outfit and a very strange title. Prince Tui Teka.”
After spending a year in New Zealand, he returned to Russia with his new CD. But home for the openly gay man was becoming dangerous as tensions against the LGBTQ+ community were rising.
Inspired his move
“In the beginning of 2000, there was huge pressure in the anti-gay rhetoric. It was like fighting against Western values: The gay community should be underground and the gay community cannot ask for rights and not be who we are.”
Listening to Prince Tui Teka during this period gave Dimitry comfort. It eventually inspired Dimitry to leave Russia and move to New Zealand permanently.
“I know that hate and racism and homophobia are everywhere in the world but here in New Zealand I feel more protected.”
This year, Dimitry paid the ultimate tribute to his idol by making a documentary on Prince Tui Teka as part of his communications degree at AUT University.
Dimitry traveled around New Zealand to meet people who knew and worked with the musician and went to places that were significant in Prince Tui Teka’s life.
“I visited Ruatahuna where Prince Tui Teka was born. I visited Tokomaru Bay, Gisborne, Tolaga Bay and it’s a completely different Aotearoa NZ. Many people are proud to be who they are.”
Dimitry has contacted the Teka family and they plan to meet. He will not be releasing his documentary about Prince Tui Teka publicly without the family's blessing.