Six60 on journey from shame to immersion in Māori culture

By Jessica Tyson

This week the new film Six60: Till the Lights Go Out premiered in cinemas, revealing Six60’s journey from humble beginnings to becoming New Zealand’s most popular band.

From picking out a 50,000 capacity stadium two years running to selling over one million singles in New Zealand alone, the documentary reveals the band’s deepest struggles and biggest triumphs.

But the documentary didn’t delve into the band members' cultural journey. 

The manu tioriori, lead singer Matiu Walters, is from Te Kao, Ahipara and Kawakawa.

“I’m Te Rarawa, Te Aupouri, Ngāpuhi hard. But I was born and raised in Mt Eden central Auckland so my roots are between both.”

Synth player Marlon Gerbes says, “I whakapapa to Rangitane from the Wairarapa. Personally, I grew up without the Māori culture so with the song Kia Mau Ki Tō Ukaipo  (the te reo Māori version of Don’t Forget Your Roots) I really learned about my history and I’m just starting my journey into that world.”

The song was made with the help of Hinewehi Mohi to be included on the Waiata Anthems album, later to be performed at Western Springs with kapa haka national Matatini champions, Ngā Tumanako.

“That really opened a door for us to learn and express our Māoridom in a way because we didn’t have that growing up. We come from steep strong Māori families but for whatever reason we weren’t given that growing up," Matiu says.

“We were so happy for [Hinewehi Mohi] to be so gracious with the fact that we did have a lot of whakamā towards us being Māori …That’s very difficult for a lot of Māori growing up that they don’t know where we stand; how it feels to know you’re Māori and to face value to everyone else that you’re Māori and they call you Māori but you're caught in this kind of middle ground.”

Marlon says Mohi could sense the band members felt a bit of shame about being Māori but not growing up around the culture or the language.

“I didn’t really have that as my upbringing and now I feel okay to ask questions and be around Māori and try and learn without feeling that way. Not only that, but everything else inside of who we are we can now just embrace and learn about without feeling some kind of way,” Marlon says.

Marlon advises other young Māori to not be ashamed of who they are.

“If you’ve grown up in the hood or you haven’t grown up with the Māori culture or you’re scared of putting yourself out there, I just think you’re going to get shame and embarrassment and it’s going to be hard but I think in the long term it’s going to be beneficial for you. So just get out there and just do it.”

Matiu’s grandfather, Muru Walters

One of the highlights of the documentary is when Matiu is with his whānau playing the guitar and singing along to a waiata composed by his grandfather, Muru Walters.

“My grandfather is kind of royalty when it comes to the north and Māori. He was a Māori All Black captain, he became a bishop, and he’s a composer, an artist, responsible for the Māori art renaissance during the 1960s, so he’s such a creative and accomplished man with so much mana.”

The meaning behind the waiata was “humble yourself”.

“I thought that was such a cool lesson and so true regardless of the time and when you were born. He wrote that ages ago and it’s as relevant now as it was back then. But those shared moments with my whānau around the fire, playing the guitar, is in a way the energy I try to capture every time I write a song.”   

Māori spirit and taonga puoro  

Matiu and Marlon say the Māori spirit has always been in their process of writing music.

“Our culture, and perhaps not the language of  Māori, but the spirit of what it means to be Māori definitely seeps through the music in the way it makes us feel and the topics we choose and the spirit of the music," Matiu says.

“I think we’ve included it always in our music in a way we didn’t even understand we were doing it because there’s a spirit of music that we grew up with, that we’re trying to put in our music that is innately Māori.”

In their last album, the band used taonga puoro throughout the album.

“We didn’t stand up and make a big deal about it but it was important for us to capture the feeling of those instruments to get our ancestors in the music because it’s what we are.”

Matiu says the band definitely has plans to include the culture in their future music.

“I don’t know if it’s about doing a song in full te reo Māori or if it’s some kind of bilingual situation," he says.

“If we are going to do something in te reo Māori we’re going to do it tastefully, we’re going to do it with respect and mana and we’re going to make sure it involves everyone.”

Marlon says, “It’s just begun in that respect. We have plenty of ideas of what we can do learning about the Māori side of us and the spirit and the feeling. We’ve got a lot of ideas and we’re excited to look at them in the future.”