Intensity is the key to extraordinary Kapa Haka performance

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06 Mar 2015

 Local leader and Kapa Haka veteran, CPIT tutor Hohepa Waitoa shares his insights

Intensity and emotion will define the best Kapa Haka performances this weekend at Te Matatini, according to CPIT Māori culture and language tutor Hohepa Waitoa.

"You can be sharp and sing well and stamp your feet but unless the spirit is there it doesn't have any essence," he says.

A veteran of the event, the nation's Kapa Haka festival, Hohepa has 15 Te Matatini performances behind him. He knows just what is required when his community-based group Ngā Manu a Tāne takes the stage before thousands of people this weekend.


"My performers need to understand what we're performing so that as a performer they can portray that. It's much like doing theatre - you really need to sink into the role to have that spirit. If you're going to wow an audience it's through how you feel.

"Before we perform we get in a circle we close our eyes and feel the emotions and slip from one role into another. It's hard because there are a lot of emotions you need to run through during 25 minutes. You've got to be on top of your game knowing your material so you can slip in and out of your emotions. Portrayal is such a huge thing."

Giving it everything can come with a price. Hohepa has fainted four times after a performance and often has tears in his eyes beforehand. This is the intensity of emotion that is required for an authentic and powerful performance.

Hohepa's goal is to earn the respect of the crowd through the performance and the compositions. The content of the performance tells visiting groups the stories of the Canterbury region, from traditional legends to contemporary politics.

"It's about life and language and everything that you come across on a daily routine. I can look at a composition of my ancestors and how they lived. It's about storytelling, communication. This is about our area and its korero so that people can leave here and know a bit about this place here."

In contemporary New Zealand, Kapa Haka has a significant role to play in keeping language and culture vibrant. It was through Kapa Haka that Hohepa learned Te Reo Māori and he uses the same vehicle to teach his own children and his Bachelor of Language (Māori) students at CPIT.

The balance between innovation and tradition is a line that educational leaders like Hohepa walk daily.

"I try to keep as traditional as I can with my group but open it up for development too. Haka needs to evolve for it to stay alive and breathing. All these young fellas coming into the group now have experience and artistic talent and I can encourage them. They bring a bit of new style in to mingle that in."

Hophepa is looking forward to seeing the more traditional groups perform. "The spirit they maintain is amazing. Some protocol needs to stay and some we need to evolve. In all essence we're just trying to attract the younger audience so they can carry it on."