TE KAAHU & Arahi, Whakatu New Zealand, 2022

TE KAAHU & Arahi

7th December 2022
Whakatu Community Hall, Whakatu, New Zealand.

Review by Rob Harbers, photography by Andrew Caldwell.

In 2022’s penultimate iteration of the Small Hall Sessions, the artists performing are a double bill of local-legend-in-the-making Arahi, and TE KAAHU, the reo rangatira project of Theia, more widely known for her work in the field of electronic pop music. Between them, these performers have the power to hold audiences enraptured, as evidenced by the show presented in the historic Whakatu community hall.

The first half of the set saw the floor being given to Arahi, fresh off the back of an appearance on RNZ with Jesse Mulligan. It was perhaps prophetic, in light of this and what it could potentially lead to, that the first song he played was “Everything’s About To Change” – for who knows what could come of such a profile boost? In the words of the recently lamentably departed Hamish Kilgour, Anything Could Happen, indeed!

His set was comprised of material from across his burgeoning ouevre, performed with characteristic self-effacement, belying the talent and skill that goes in to this material. This was performed solo, accompanied by either acoustic guitar or the venerable Yamaha piano that is the proud possession of the Small Hall Sessions. Particular highlights were the melodic “Purpose of this Man” and “(My Baby’s like a) Hurricane”, but there was also much interest arising from the cover songs –“Wichita Lineman” and “In Your Eyes”. The first of these was introduced as being one that the true meaning of was only fully grasped while performing it on a recent tour, having invited audiences to share their thoughts also-comprehension by consensus!

After what seemed like a brief set, such was the effect of the performance, Arahi closed out with a song for the night’s manuhiri, TE KAAHU and co, in the form of “E Ipo” – one which it turned out holds special meaning for Theia – but more on that anon…

Another special show from this rising star, and one along the path to when he’s the sole bill at an Small Hall Sessions!

Following the mandatory comfort stop/merch push/drinks break that forms an integral part of the Session experience, it was the turn of TE KAAHU to grasp the audience in their hands, and to hold them there enraptured for an all-too-brief 50 minutes or so. I was as spellbound as any other present, and consequently didn’t make many notes – so don’t be looking for a detailed analysis. By any lights, though, what ensued was something truly magical – the combo grasping the mantle of taking the reo journey onwards, while sacrificing nothing in the way of musicality. Divine harmonies and beautifully sympathetic instrumental accompaniment forming a winning package that is a tribute to the vision of its creative force, and truly one to be experienced!

Given that these waiata were performed in Te Reo, some may have felt a comprehension gap – but if it inspires anyone to take on the language, that’s got to count as a win, in any case. The essences of the songs were explained for the sake of the non-speakers, but for myself at least, the experience was equally complete with or without this. Not to in any way take anything from the material – the opposite in fact – such is the sheer beauty of it that it stands alone. After all, I listen to Rammstein, Sigur Ros, Hanggai, Tinariwen and others who sing in their own languages, often without any idea of the subject matter. So the reo of this land is at least equally capable of holding attention – as Jamie invited in his introduction “Sit back and surrender yourself to it” – solid advice, that man!

As teased earlier, Arahi’s cover of “E Ipo “ was a fortuitous one, as Theia explained it as being a special part of her own background and inspiration – so an unconscious synchrony occurring there. Another example of Small Hall magic!

Speaking of inspiration, while most of the set was comprised of originals, the sole cover was one composed by Theia’s great-grandmother in the 1940s. “Kiwi Weka” – an ode to the American servicemen stationed in Aotearoa during WW2, and their multiple left-behind contributions to the gene pool!

But deadline looms – so time for the directives. If you can, go catch one of the remaining shows, you won’t regret it – and that’s a guarantee! (Not actually backed up by anything beyond your trust in my recommendation, mind you – but isn’t that all you need?)

As the silly season takes hold once again, threatening to send the motu into a frenzy of stress and consumerism (and aren’t they closely related? Prove me wrong!) this is the perfect way to step outside the insanity, and tap in to the awa of wairua – an instant connection to the deep force that’ll calm the soul. Accompanied by a homegrown beer or wine, and the warmth and bonhomie of hosts Jamie, Milly et al – get amongst it!

Were you there at the Whakatu Community Hall for this intimate gig? Or have you seen TE KAAHU or Arahi perform live somewhere else before? Tell us about it in the comments below!


TE KAAHU & ARAHI set list Small Hall Sessions

Note: Ambient Light was provided passes to review and photograph this concert. As always, this has not influenced the review in any way and the opinions expressed are those of Ambient Light’s only. This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase a product using an affiliate link, Ambient Light will automatically receive a small commission at no cost to you.

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