Kiwi women have long held their own when it comes to songwriting. From a 17-year-old Shona Laing performing her self-penned ‘1905‘ on Studio One’s New Faces, to Bic Runga becoming the youngest inductee into the NZ Music Hall of Fame; from the 80s girl power of Sharon O’Neill, to the chutzpah of Anika Moa and Gin Wigmore. They know a chorus from a coda — in this spotlight we reflect on songs and songstresses that have found their way into Kiwi hearts.
Shona Laing's long musical career began with '1905', a song dedicated to Henry Fonda. At 17 years old, Shona took the song to second place on talent show New Faces in 1972. Early the following year it rose to number four on the NZ top 10. This short live clip, thought to be filmed at Christchurch Town Hall, captures Shona in extreme close-up, serving to magnify the emotional intensity of the song. Don't be fooled into thinking this is a mimed performance; her voice is absolutely spot-on, and the crowd reacts with rapturous applause.
"If you don't like the beat, don't play with the drum." 'Maxine' was a single taken from O'Neill's 1983 album Foreign Affairs, about a King's Cross prostitute — "Case 1352, a red and green tattoo" — and based on a woman who worked the streets nearby. The song charted at No. 16 both here and in Australia. The clip starts with Sharon arriving at the airport; look out for leopard skin print tights and a dress straight off Logan's Run. Other highlights: a steamy sax solo, heavy eye shadow and backlit silhouettes in "rain-slicked avenues." Nice.
This episode of C4's music series Homegrown Profiles features singer/songwriter Anika Moa, who was signed to international label Atlantic Records and recording her debut album Thinking Room in New York when she was barely out of her teens. Moa talks about growing up in a musical household in Christchurch; being discovered through the annual Rockquest competition; her American experience and the decision that it wasn't a good fit for her; and her return to New Zealand and the happier experience of making her second album Stolen Hill.
The third single from Bic Runga's 1997 debut album Drive got to number seven in the NZ charts, 10 in Australia and 26 in Ireland. It nudged the UK charts at 96, and was included on the soundtrack of hit comedy American Pie. Directed by UK photographer/video director Karen Lamond and made to showcase Runga internationally, the video shows the singer shyly stalking the hipster of her 90s dreams, as he stocks the shelves of an Italian deli. Back at her place, the camera pulls back for an unexpected end. An earlier video for the single also exists, directed by Kiwi talent Joe Lonie.
Singer Jackie Clarke attends the NZ Smokefree Composing Women’s Festival to find out what goes on there, and find the guidance and inspiration to write a song for the first time. Made for TV ONE’s Work of Art slot, the documentary mixes interviews with performance footage covering a wide range of musical styles, from classical to rock. Singer/songwriters featuring include Moana Maniapoto, Shona Laing, Hinewehi Mohi, Mahinarangi Tocker and Jan Hellriegel, plus sometime film composers Janet Roddick and Jan Preston.
Singer Moana Maniapoto discusses her evolution as a Māori musician in this episode from a series for high school music students. After first singing in public on the marae and learning to harmonise at school, she paid her way through university by singing in nightclubs. She describes her epiphany in a Detroit church as she realised that she needed to sing Māori songs rather than keep trying to emulate American soul and r'n'b divas. An acoustic performance of 'Hine Te Iwaiwa' (from her Toru album) is followed by a demonstration of traditional instruments.
International chart-topper Kimbra Johnson did a lot of musical growing up in public. Twelve months after featuring on kids' TV show What Now?, and two years before her first Rockquest success, this NZ Music Commission piece offers a tantalising glimpse of her as a remarkably unselfconscious 12-year-old — working with schools' music mentor Chris Diprose at her Hamilton intermediate. She's already very comfortable with the recording process and considerably more advanced in her music making than some off-camera classmates, who provide an unseen Greek chorus.
The unlikely combination of 1930s Hollywood and a Kiwi town hall knees up work delightfully in this clip from Australian production luminaries Straighty180. Wigmore's croaky charms are augmented by crowd-sourced choreography, and the most delicate of ukulele performances from a burly strummer gets the dance-floor moving. Lovely!
In this episode from a series for secondary school music students, singer Hinewehi Mohi recalls the controversy that followed her Maori language rendition of 'God Defend New Zealand' at the 1999 Rugby World Cup. She talks of her immersion in music at school and its importance to her following the birth of her daughter with cerebral palsy (and the Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre this inspired her to establish). As a songwriter who doesn't play an instrument, she explains the origins of 'Kotahitanga' — her Maori language-meets-dance pop hit with Oceania in 2002.
This NZBC profile finds singer/songwriter Shona Laing as a 17-year-old in the seventh form (now year 13) at Hutt Valley High, distracted from study by an impending music career. Laing had shot to national prominence with her performances on the Studio One talent show, had a hit with her Henry Fonda-inspired single '1905' and supported American singer Lobo. She is already a guarded interviewee while her school mates are unsure what to make of her success. Lobo is effusive in his praise and there are performances of '1905' and Roberta Flack's 'Killing Me Softly'.
Nostalgia can take many forms: and certainly many a middle-aged memory swirls back to this early Sharon O’Neill video, a nostalgia further fuelled by the long lack of a decent quality master copy. The classic clip about romance in foreign climes — or perhaps a romance that unfurled somewhere else entirely — opens with O’Neill’s backlit image reflected in the water. But it is the scenes of O’Neill in a rippling pool wearing a shark tooth earring that seem to have left the longest impression on males of a certain vintage.
Canadian import Tami Neilson showcased her range with fourth album Dynamite!, colouring her country roots with lashings of rockabilly and gospel — plus this track, where she channels torch singer Peggy Lee doing a “sultry nightclub blues” (as the Herald's Graham Reid put it). The black and white video reflects the deliberately retro, minimalist vibe of the song, with Neilson grooving at front and centre while guitarist, bongo drummer and a trio of doo-wop vocalists chime in behind. 'Walk' won Tami and brother Joshua Neilson the 2014 Silver Scroll songwriting award.
'Something in the Water', from singer-songwriter Brooke Fraser's third album Flags, is a giddy, infectious love song with a rollicking country/folk setting. It was voted Most Performed Song of the Year at the 2010 APRA Silver Scrolls. The partly animated video, made by the Special Problems production team of Campbell Hooper and Joel Kefali, loosely recasts the song as Homer's Odyssey with a multi-costumed Fraser as Penelope waiting for her Odysseus to return from across the water (but not above a playful poke of the tongue to finish off proceedings).
For fourth album Belle (2011), Bic Runga found new collaborators, including brothers Kody and Ruban Nielson (The Mint Chicks), with Kody becoming Belle's producer and Runga’s partner. ‘Tiny Little Piece of My Heart’ was the first result, and opening track; The Herald's Lydia Jenkin called the girl group style number "an irresistible piece of pop, deceptively effortless in its spacious groove and sweet keyboard riffs". The black and white video for the jaunty song about moving on, sees Runga lolling about on a bed with a vintage camera. It was directed by fashion photographer Oliver Rose.
Before you could call her Queen Bee and ‘Royals’ became a Grammy-winning smash hit, Ella Yelich-O’Connor was a singer in Extreme and competing in the covers category of the 2009 Intermediate Schools Battle of the Bands finals. The 12-year-old Belmont Intermediate student and her band belt out covers of ‘Man on the Silver Mountain’, by British rockers Rainbow, and ‘Edie (Ciao Baby)’, The Cult’s tribute to Andy Warhol heroine Edie Sedgwick. “The gods lay at your fee-e-eet …” Ella. Post-performance Ella bemoans a “sore voice”, but Extreme take third place.
This was the first music video funded by New Zealand on Air. The song is a colourful plea for Māori youth to preserve their culture by learning the reo — it also doubles as a handy guide to Māori pronunciation. Director Kerry Brown created vibrant animated backgrounds to match the song’s hip-hop beats. The cameo appearances include Moana Maniapoto’s father, MC OJ and the Rhythm Slave, Mika and various crew members. The Moahunters were Mina Ripia (who went on to her own act Wai) and Teremoana Rapley (from Upper Hutt Posse, who went on to manage King Kapisi).
Thanks to its control of light and texture, this is surely one of New Zealand's more luxurious music videos. As the song progresses, performer Hollie Smith takes on the persona of the central figure in a series of classic artworks — from the Mona Lisa, to a portrait of Frida Kahlo, to Edouard Manet's 1882 painting of a Parisian barwoman at the Folies-Bergère nightclub. Director James Solomon was later the prime mover behind 2015 web series K'Rd Stories.
This Anika Moa video puts the drama of her early rise in a nutshell; after being signed to Atlantic, the American label flew a director down to New Zealand to monitor proceedings, and ensure that the singer looked as slim on screen as possible. The video sees Moa lusting after every male she passes, singing beside some rugby posts, and taking a ride in a taxi driven by actor Antony Starr (Outrageous Fortune). As for Moa, she soon returned home from the US; the local top five hit ended up on the soundtrack of Catherine Zeta-Jones/Julia Roberts romance America’s Sweethearts.
Initially avoided by New Zealand radio stations — who in the same period, showed as little interest in playlisting Crowded House classic 'Don't Dream It's Over' — this became Shona Laing's biggest international single, in a career notable for stylistic change. '(Glad I'm) Not a Kennedy' got to number two in NZ, and number 14 in the US rock charts. Here, the acoustic songbird of 1905 is recast as serious synth-pop singer, in a clip which mixes native beaches, brutalist architecture and poignant archival footage of the ill-fated US president.
A teenage Anika Moa attracted the attention of Atlantic Records on the strength of this song, becoming the first Kiwi to sign to a major international label before having released an album at home. Directed by Paul Casserly, the music video places the camera above Moa as she sings about objectification in a house that, even by Kiwi standards, needs a heating upgrade. At the 2002 NZ Music Awards ‘Youthful’ won Moa Songwriter of the Year. In a 2005 Homegrown episode, Moa recalled feeling shy making her first music video. “Everyone thought I looked like Beth Heke."
After roughly five years as a member of all woman band Cassandra's Ears, Jan Hellriegel launched her solo career with this 1992 single. The much admired video captures a seductive performance from the singer, and cuts it together with smoky pool halls, leopard print, classical sculptures, night driving and boy scouts — unlikely slow motion images, which nevertheless suit the raw emotion of the song. The clip was directed by Chris Mauger, who also utilised black and white on Ngaire chart-topper 'To Sir with Love'. 'The Way I Feel' got to number four on the NZ charts.
Whānau is at the forefront of this episode from a series made for high school music students, which features bilingual Māori jazz and soul diva Whirimako Black. After an introduction in te reo, there’s an intimate acoustic performance of ‘Te Tini O Toi’ from her award-winning debut album Shrouded in the Mist. It’s a lullaby written for her children — and grandchildren to come — so they will know where they come from. Black also honours her grandfather, a multi-instrumentalist who began encouraging her to make music when she was three years old.
'Maybe' was the title track from Sharon O'Neill's 1981 album and she wrung every drop of emotion out of the performance. The video sees her during a sad break up, wandering around the flat in satin pants and a cavalry jacket and slumping against walls as she ponders on exactly how things came to this. It's in glorious black and white apart from the relationship flashbacks during the bridge, which oddly look like a montage from a sitcom. 'Maybe' reached No.12 on the NZ Singles Chart.
One of the gentler songs on Shona Laing's 1992 album New on Earth, this warm, Latin-tinged number is in polar opposition to the staunch, synth-laden stylings that won attention on her previous release South. Karyn Hay's purposefully minimal clip concentrates exclusively on Laing, highlighted by red and blue filters as she plays acoustic guitar. Elsewhere, the stylised symbols seen on her face form part of an interstellar background. Laing has called New on Earth "the best record I ever made". Mercy of Love won Laing her second Silver Scroll songwiting award in 1992.
This episode of C4's music series Homegrown Profiles features singer/songwriter Bic Runga, who burst onto the New Zealand music scene in 1997 with her record-breaking debut album Drive. Since then Runga has had both local and international success and released two further hit albums, Beautiful Collision and Birds. Runga talks about growing up in a musical household (her mother and two older sisters are all singers), the success of Drive, and her "difficult second album", which was released a full five years after her debut.
The title track from Moana and the Moahunters’ gold-selling first album celebrates wahine and Māori cultural pride, via what singer Moana Maniapoto called “haka house music”. The fusion of traditional Māori sounds with contemporary grooves got to number nine in the charts. It was co-written with Andrew McNaughton and features vocalist Hareruia Aperahama (‘What’s the Time Mr Wolf’). Kerry Brown's video cuts the group singing together with kapa haka (the acclaimed Te Waka Huia) and whānau playing. Brown also directed the video for the group’s groundbreaking ‘AEIOU’.
Kimbra's second single, the jazz inflected 'Simply on my Lips', was recorded when the future pop star was 16 and still at school. The starkly simple black and white video was directed and animated by Joel Kefali (later one half of award-winning video team Special Problems). It placed Kimbra with her guitar in the corner of a room, whose walls became a canvas for Kefali's line drawings. The result won the Best Breakthrough category at the 2007 Juice TV awards. Within months, Kimbra had signed an international management contract and relocated to Melbourne.
Brooke Fraser took her inspiration for ‘Albertine’ from a girl she met in Rwanda who had been orphaned by the Rwandan genocide, which claimed 800,000 lives in 1994. Believing that “faith without deeds is dead”, Fraser resolved to tell the orphan's story to the world. A similar determination to be more than just a “voyeur of tragedy” is underlined in Anthony Rose’s elegantly understated video, which deals not in terrible statistics but the humanity of everyday people in Rwanda. ‘Albertine’ won the 2007 APRA Silver Scroll for songwriting.
A NZ Herald assertion that women’s music is just “gentle, political folk songs” leads off this report for TVNZ’s mid-80s rock show. It’s presented by Dick Driver from a showcase for women songwriters at Auckland’s much loved and missed Gluepot in Ponsonby. Featured musicians are singer/songwriter Mahinarangi Tocker, blues singer Mahia Blackmore and then member of When the Cat’s Away Dianne Swann. Those sensitive folksongs are in short supply but the same can’t be said for the obstacles encountered in dealing with a male dominated music industry.
The second single from Kimbra's debut album Vows is a plea to a disconnected and emotionally unavailable male character to abandon the dark side and embrace the world. Against a dazzling, infinite white background Kimbra and her crew are a riot of colour as they attempt to win over this would-be object of her attentions with song, dance, colour, tambourines and confetti. Australian director Guy Franklin's video was shot in Melbourne and features a cameo appearance from the young girls who appeared in Kimbra's previous video 'Settle Down'.
Half a decade before the electronic beats of Oceania, Hinewehi Mohi's debut single is a gentler, more soulful affair — with the constantly moving close-ups of director Niki Caro's video underlining the song’s heartfelt simplicity. Co-written with Doctor Hone Kaa and Ardijah founding member Jay Dee, the song pushes the importance of rising above adversity, and having the courage to evolve as a people and a nation. The latter would be challenged seven years later by another te reo performance from Mohi — of the national anthem at a rugby test match.
Soul songstress Hollie Smith looks gorgeous in a fierce kind of way in this big bold video clip from director Preston McNeil of Mo Fresh Productions. Auckland bars Hotel DeBrett and Sale St gleam in a riot of primary colour, clowns and crime; and there are celebrity cameo performances galore, including music TV hosts Shavaughn Ruakere, Nick Dwyer and Helena McAlpine, and actors Danielle Cormack and Oliver Driver.
Singer/songwriter Sharon O’Neill did Los Angeles inspired, mid-70s pop/rock as well as many of her contemporaries in California — but it’s hard to imagine opening lines as striking as these ones coming from that West Coast. ‘Words’ was the first single from her self titled, second long player which won her Album of the Year and Best Female Vocalist at the 1980 NZ Awards. After years behind the keyboards, O’Neill shines in this video filmed in front of an audience with a band that includes Simon Morris, Wayne Mason and future Mutton Bird Ross Burge.
Frequent collaborators singer Anika Moa and director Justin Pemberton crossed paths again for the music video of this track, from Moa's 2008 album In Swings the Tide — her first, slightly countrified album for EMI. In a tastefully furnished room, Moa wakes in a bed of chocolate satin sheets, only to find the day is nearly done for her and the mysterious bedmate sleeping next to her. Moa exhorts her lover, “please don't be mean to me 'cos I really tried ...”, before stripping the duvet off the relationship to see what's underneath.