THE New Zealand Music Festival returns to Shanghai for its third year in October, bringing with it a range of acts to showcase the best in New Zealand entertainment and provide an eclectic mix.
In 2014, festival performers will include native Maori singers Maisey Rika and Toni Huata, as well as a capella quartet, the Musical Island Boys, and the Wellington International Ukelele Orchestra. Each of the four acts will offer a different taste of New Zealand’s diverse culture.
“There’s a strong Maori tradition,” says festival founder and director Kirsten Mason. “They’re our indigenous people and so every year I have Maori performers. Then there are also groups that show the wacky, more humorous side of New Zealand.”
Singer Rika says, “My waiata (songs) will be a reflection of the times, about the environment, the lands and oceans, and how we need to protect them for the next generation. I am very proud of my culture and hope to encourage others to hold fast to their own cultures, as this is what makes us all so unique and special.”
In contrast, the Wellington International Ukelele Orchestra is “a crazy group of 12 people who sing and play the ukulele at the same time in outrageous costumes,” says Mason.
“They get people up on stage; they get Mexican waves going in the audience. (In New Zealand) we try not to take ourselves too seriously,” she says.
The acts could hardly be more musically different. The Ukelele Orchestra sings and plays popular songs, while the Musical Island Boys are the current a capella quartet world champions.
Singer Huata has recorded five solo albums, including a bilingual album, influenced by her heritage, and Rika uses her music as a tool to send strong messages to listeners.
“Artistically (the performers) are all fabulous,” Mason says. “Finding (artists) is not hard and convincing them to come to China is not hard, either. People are fascinated by China, and I think musicians generally have a pretty adventurous streak. They’re curious about new experiences, and they’re not daunted by the fact that China’s not a well-traveled path yet for musicians. I think they find that exciting.”
“I am really looking forward to going to Shanghai,” confirms Rika. “I have never been, and I love seeing new, amazing places and meeting people from all walks of life, from very different historic and inspiring cultures.”
She believes that her trip to China is an “opportunity to share and learn.”
Mason arrived in Shanghai after the World Expo 2010 and found that New Zealand culture lacked a presence in the city.
“Although lots of New Zealand performers were itching to come to China, no one was bringing them in,” she says. “It seemed to me that creating a platform for New Zealand music and a springboard for performers to come into China would be the best way to do that.”
In partnership with numerous Chinese and New Zealand companies, including the Shanghai World Music Festival and Tourism New Zealand, Mason is reaching out to young, curious people in Shanghai looking to try new things.
Since the inaugural festival in 2012, she has worked to bring a variety of acts to Shanghai audiences, organizing shows throughout the year in addition to the festival. Musicians in past years have performed to sold-out crowds intrigued by unfamiliar styles of performance.
This year, audiences can expect “quite a lot of sheer entertainment,” says Mason. At the Mixing Room there will be “contemporary Maori music, bringing together traditional performance with everything from folk to R&B to electronica.”
As well as performing in Shanghai, acts from this year’s festival will also go to Suzhou in Jiangsu Province, Guangzhou in Guangdong Province and other destinations in China.
This is an opportunity for spectators in these cities to see the performers live, and for the artists to explore more of China and share their culture with a wider audience.
Tickets are on sale at the event’s official website (http://www.nzyinyue.com/), which operates in both English and Chinese. There are also Youku videos of each of the performers so concert-goers can check out the acts before purchasing tickets.