Award-winning neo-soul artist Mohi Allen is back with his mellifluous sound with the release of his highly anticipated bilingual album, Elements of Aroha. He sat down with Seven Sharp’s Te Rauhiringa Brown to talk about love and Bolognese.
Te Rauhiringa Brown: Tēnā koe, tungāne (brother)!
Mohi Allen: Kia ora, kia ora, pēhea ana (how are you}?
TRB: Kei te ora (I’m well), how are you?
Yeah, doing good, doing good. Living life.
TRB: Maioha APRA Silver Scroll Award Winner, congratulations!
Thank you, thank you. That was a huge thing, a huge year I feel like, so I was tūmeke katoa au (totally surprised). So real beautiful thing to receive.
TRB: And you weren’t there?
And I wasn’t there! I was up north, at a tangi (funeral).
TRB: You were at a tangi? A testament of who you are as a person – kaupapa (purpose-driven) man, really.
New kōpaki of waiata (album of songs) – Elements of Aroha – there’s a theme here. Tell us about that.
Going into this project I started writing it at the beginning of this year and I wanted to find a kaupapa (theme) that would resonate with everybody in one way or another. So I decided to pursue this kaupapa of aroha as an overarching theme and then write waiata that were going to hono (connect) to this kaupapa.
So, each waiata speaks about aroha in one way or another: love for people, love for land, love for the wā kāinga (home base). And some waiata talk about loss of connection, loss of love, and there’s one waiata in particular that talks about a complicated relationship.
That’s what I wanted to do with this project and I’m so stoked that it’s finally here and that the whānau can listen to it, and just vibe with it throughout the summer as well.
TRB: You just started writing that at the beginning of the year. The year’s not over and that album – a song on that collection [Mē Pēhea Rā] – took home the Silver Scroll APRA Award, the Maioha Award. Ō whakaaro (your thoughts)?
Yeah, te mea tuatahi i tumeke (first off I was surprised). I wasn’t there in person but I… we found out a little bit earlier that we were in top three, and I thought that was huge. And cos’ we’re there and we had my sister Jordyn With a Why in there, the Tuari Brothers, and it’s just wicked to see so many waiata Māori being put on that sort of taumata (platform) for the motu to see, but yeah. To be honest I didn’t think that, me personally, that we would receive it so when it did come through, it was huge.
Like, I’m not a very emotional person but I was like, ‘woah!’ I was taken aback by it too! And we were back home as well, watching the livestream back, and we got to see MAJIC perform it live, and that was amazing, and then see the boys do their kōrero about receiving the tohu (award) – Hēmi [Kelly] and Noema [Te Hau III].
Yeah, I’m stoked, I’m so stoked that the waiata – that we received that tohu, yeah.
TRB: A testament really that you’re on the right path because I know there was a moment where you thought music wasn’t for you?
Yeah, nah, that’s true. I started getting back into the music haerenga (journey) that I’m on in 2020, during lockdown, but it was more so something that it was something I wanted to do to keep me occupied and I didn’t have much confidence in terms of pursuing music as a fulltime thing or even if anybody would like my tunes.
Then it wasn’t until a little bit later when Nathaniel Howe and Pere [Wihongi], they reached out about a kaupapa (project) called Waiata Nation, and I composed with Pere and the crew my first song E Kī.
So that was the beginning of this haerenga and slowly but surely I built confidence and started getting more confident about stage presence and performing and making this a real thing.
So yeah, it’s been pretty choice.
TRB: And people are loving it.
TRB: I feel like a whole generation of babies being born, made to this new collection of waiata…
TRB: It’s beautiful, it’s sexy, it’s romantic, it’s eye-opening – it’s all the things. What do your whānau think?
They’re stoked. For this particular album, it was supported by Te Māngai Pāhō, but what I did before jumping into this album is we went home for a hui, and I talked to the hapū about creating an album, and just their whakaaro (thoughts) and what I should write – just put it on the table.
And everyone was super stoked, and they’re the ones who actually sent through that pepa (paper) saying that, ‘we’re keen to support Mohi and his kaupapa’, so I had to make sure that I got the sign off from them.
TRB: So you got the support from your hapū before you-
Yeah, yeah, had to because at the end of the day, like, writing all these waiata and performing everywhere, but if the hapū, or if the whānau at home are not really liking it then I got to sort of change something.
So, it was cool that they were keen to see me pursue this haerenga but also create this album. Yeah.
TRB: And not just for you but for the promotion and celebration of te reo Māori. I know that’s really important to you and your whānau. So this album is bilingual?
Yeah, yeah. So with this particular album I wanted to do that – create an album that would promote and hakatairanga our language, some of the kupu (words) and the waiata. There’s some of the kupu that we use back home in the north as well.
So I really like putting those kupu forward in those waiata. I also wanted to create a bilingual album to reach out to whānau and to people that may not be reo speakers but are keen to get some insight into our beautiful world and our language.
And so that’s sort of why this album is what it is.
TRB: Love it, it’s that bridge really between the two worlds, ay?
TRB: Tell us a little bit about the content of the album, you know we spoke briefly about the overarching theme, but in terms of each waiata, just a little breakdown of maybe what some of them are?
Yeah, so track one is Kārerarea. It was produced by Noema Te Hau, Aubrei [Mitchell], Rukuwai [Tipene-Allen] – there was a whole team of people involved in this particular waiata. But what inspired this waiata was the love story between Ueoneone and Reitu.
And I know we sing about it all the time in our waiata back home but I wanted- I’ve always thought that that was such a beautiful story and I’ve always wanted to create a waiata that sort of depicted or paid homage to that story of aroha.
So I decided, well, I’ll try and write about it but I’ll also try and bring it into the now. How are we experiencing love today? And how can we make this feel, you know, something that is connected to us now but also pays homage to that, to our tupuna? So, that’s where Kārearea comes about.
There’s a particular line in it that says, “I don’t wanna brag but I’m making the bombest Bolognese”.
And it’s funny as because when I first wrote that particular sentence for the waiata, everybody in the room started to crack up and was like, ‘ok, this isn’t serious’. Like, it’s just ‘it is what it is’.
I was just, ‘oh, we’ll leave it in there, we’ll let it sit’, because at the moment we’re laughing but it might be cool later on.
A week later and it was the catchiest bit.
I guess, like, thinking about it in terms of the bigger picture, it was sort of my take on how do I see love, how do I enact aroha today and maybe it’s through Bolognese, or maybe it’s through something as simple as that, you know, food, kai!
Parts of this interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
tungāne – brother
pēhea ana? – how are you?
tumeke katoa au – I (was) totally surprised
tangi – funeral, cry
kaupapa – purpose, theme, project
kōpaki of waiata – album of songs
hono – connect, link
wā kāinga – home base
ō whakaaro – your thoughts?
te mea tuatahi i tūmeke – first off I was surprised
taumata – platform, level
motu – country
tohu – award
haerenga – journey
hui – meeting
hapū – subtribe
whakaaro – thoughts
pepa – paper
(w)hakatairanga – promote, elevate