Sharing our aroha for Aro
Aro is bilingual husband and wife duo Charles (Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa, Ngāti Te Ata, Te Ati Awa) and Emily Looker (nee Rice), who share a passion for using the power of language and music to tell stories and remind us of our cultural identity.
The Silver Scroll APRA Maioha Award and APRA Best Children’s Award Finalists’ third major project He Wai follows two previous albums Manu and He Manu Anō – which both celebrate Aotearoa New Zealand’s incredible native birds. We chose Kererū, a waiata from Manu to be the music for our Underbirds campaign in partnership with Forest & Bird to help raise awareness of our country’s most vulnerable native birds.
Aro’s music explores ideas of kaitiakitanga and manaakitanga - looking after ourselves, looking after each other and looking after our environment. After living in a van touring from 2017-2019, the couple now base themselves in Pukekohe with baby girl Olive. Aro have been performing in Aotearoa since 2017, with three nationwide tours and several festivals under their belts, and more lined up for 2021-2022. They’ve featured on RNZ Music with Jesse Mulligan for two waiata, have been consistently broadcast on Māori Television, and are featured on radio stations across the country.
We caught up with Emily and Charles recently to find out what inspires their beautiful work, and what’s coming up in the pipeline.
How does your song writing process work? Is it harder/easier to be life as well as creative partners?
Being married and living together is actually super convenient for our song writing, especially when something like a lockdown happens. Life's certainly changed since our pēpi Olive arrived in Feb this year though, we really have to dedicate time to it. This looks like a lot of reading, listening, and asking as all our projects are thematic with our environment, and there are a lot of our own Māori stories already out there that give us a place to start. This typically inspires a melody from Emily or a beat from Charles and we just let it roll out.
Who/what inspires you? (Musically, philosophically, professionally...)
Our natural environment has a HUGE part to play. Without it, or the mātauranga Māori (Māori worldview) none of our songs would exist. We’ve been grateful to learn a lot about love and identity with our families and the different families we’ve grown up with. Part of our motivation is to encourage the celebration of all our identities, especially those of us who are made to feel like we don’t have ‘fit in’. If we look after ourselves and each other, it’ll improve how we look after our whenua. Ko au te whenua, ko te whenua ko au - I am the land and the land is me.
What was the inspiration behind your album Manu? And the song ‘Kererū’ in particular?
Manu is a collection of songs, stories and proverbial sayings highlighting the significance of a selection of our native birds. The way a manu would get onto our album was if we heard it while we were living out of our van travelling around Aotearoa. The waiata Kererū was inspired by the bird's love of berries, enjoying them so much that they wouldn’t be able to fly, and might simply topple out of a tree. The idea behind this song, with a bit of a fun approach is ‘all things in moderation’.
Why do our native manu matter so much to you? Why should people care?
Nowhere else do birds sing like our birds do, to the point where the tūī could be taught how to speak. They were here first and we should respect that and learn from them. They can show us things that we might need help with, like a pīwaiwaka leads lost hikers out of a bush, like a weka is curious enough to try things once, but smart enough not to do it twice if it’s no good.
Why did you say yes to collaborating on our Underbirds campaign?
We think it’s awesome that ecostore is doing something to help protect our manu, which in turn protects our history and our stories that are our very own here in Aotearoa. With our shared passion for our natural environment, especially our manu, it made sense to collaborate and support the kaupapa.
Which 5 birds will get your vote for Bird of the Year, and why?
- Tāiko - With our newest project He Wai - stories of our waters, it’s utterly heart-breaking to see the damage commercial fishing has not only on our sea life, but the manu who are connected with the ocean too. One of our votes will definitely be in support of the Tāiko.
- Kakaruia - The comeback these little guys have made is something worth acknowledging, especially the kaitiaki who helped make this a possibility. They have our vote! Plus they’re really cute and a song could easily be written on their catchy melody
- Kākāriki karaka - This bird has copped a bit of flack since its first meeting with humans in Aotearoa. It was coined the ‘lazy bird’ because it would be eating breakfast while all the other birds were doing their job singing the sun up. Now it’s seriously endangered. We want to give this little one a break.
- Kōkā - This bird is the closest resemblance we’ve seen to the majestic, but now extinct, huia. It would be a shame to lose something so beautiful, again.
- Kea - What would a family be without its own cheeky version of Māui? We think everyone deserves to experience having a laugh and feeling the joy only a kea can bring. Let’s keep them around.
Where is your favourite spot in Aotearoa to connect with nature?
It’s hard to choose one, but our stand out spots definitely share a similar vibe -clear waters, lots of bush, and bird songs. One significant stand out is Rakiura, Stewart Island. We’ve had two incredible stays on the motu, surrounded by untouched nature. It’s mesmerising and we love the community -as well as all the manu!
Tell us about your song Korimako. Why is it so important to connect with tamariki through music?
Korimako sings about the strength we have as a community, like manu, and sometimes we might feel like we’re on our own. We hope our tamariki learn about how significant they are in their community and how significant relationships can be. What better way to learn something except by singing songs together, playing games, and having fun
Any tips for our readers to help them look after native birds?
Clean up after ourselves, doing our best to leave a spot outside the way we found it, if not better -especially if a neighbour of ours has left things behind. Support your local or national kaitiaki initiatives, groups who are dedicating time to ensure the protection and safety of our natural environment and our manu. Learn about our manu and their stories and respond accordingly. It’s a relationship, and neither party is insignificant.
What’s next for Aro? (Insert shameless plug here)
After releasing our latest project ‘He Wai’ and having our nationwide tour cancelled due to Covid, we’re super looking forward to the summer - hopeful that some of our upcoming shows will get to go ahead. We’re part of a few festivals and will be sharing news on our socials and website when we can! We’re working on a new music video for Tohorā (last track of the EP), we’re running school workshops with our education resource paired with ‘He Wai’, and we are starting to write our next big project, due 2023!