Concert Review:  Aro, Onewhero Performing Arts Theatre, 26 September 2020

Folk duo Aro captivate a Heartland audience for a Saturday evening with their songs deeply rooted in the land and language of Aotearoa New Zealand. Te Reo would not just be one week of appreciation if it’s also coming in under the radar as popular music.

Onewhero village sits high above the Waikato river, amidst spectacular hills and scenery. Dairy, sheep and market garden country. And before that forest and bush. You could imagine yourself in the Appalachians at twilight.

On stage first is a young Hamiltonian Aaron David. Starts the evening for all of us with a welcoming waiata. Then it’s a Singer-Songwriters set on which he consistently reaches peaks.

First is Come to the Edge. Quiet, measured Folk vocals contemplating on how close relationships form. Then he ranges out with a high tenor that can sustain. Emotion rises up. Out of the blue comes Change is gonna come said Sam Cooke and you hear Dion in phrasing and intonation. I hear this for most of his set.

Later I asked Aaron about this and was not surprised to learn he did not know him. Music is an energy and the musician is the vehicle to give it a physical form.

He has an excellent White Soul voice which runs on the smoother side rather than the rougher urgent one.  Wisdom has a clipped rhythmic beat and he gets to do some finger-picking. Lifts up the energy.

One of These Days has a similar rhythm. Singing from Folk to Soul. Uses some of the effects pedals and gets the guitar to sound a bit Funky. But spare and more the Stax sound of Albert King and Steve Cropper.

Die Happy keeps the surprises coming. A real Deep South Blues laden with Soul. Then he sings I met lady wisdom in an unlikely place and it’s Levon Helm and the Band. Aaron is smoother. A nice guitar break at the end.

Sung with passion throughout. E Hoki is a waiata to finish. Go home to your mountains to be refreshed he explains. Te Reo fits in with Folk and Soul as well.

Emily Looker and Charles Looker as Aro write and perform in Te Reo. Entire songs and also mixed English ones. As singers both would be Folk. Emily has as an excellent Soul Jazz voice with a light touch. Charles can be slightly tougher Soul with an ability to Rap.

Their album Manu and EP He Manu Ano are all written around the native birds of New Zealand. Most iconic, some extinct. All have their Maori folklore and these are woven into the songs. They are active in performing these to schools throughout the country. An excellent way to keep the language alive and dynamic. Primary school children have no pre-conceived baggage as to what is cool and what is not. But it has to be is good music. Older children will respond if it is cool.

Aro make great music and they are cool. The music sounds simple and direct but there is sophistication and good craft.

On Kotare the voices are melodic Soul Jazz and swing nicely. Emily plays saxophone. Didn’t hear it on the EP, but on careful listening it is there in treated form. A Haka from Charles at the  close.

Ruru is the Morepork. Soft Soul to Jazz and sunny. Pukeko is a Haka Rap with Charles voice featuring. Conveys the character of the bird as territorial and ready to stand his ground.

Kereru is from the album and Emily stretches out on this with a Soul Jazz vocal which shakes and shimmys. Another one bites the dust appears. Male energy in Te Reo.

Riroriro has a similar rhythmic propulsion. Coming from the classic sound of Seventies Soul with soft Funk elements.

Korimako is a Waiata and a perfect Maori Pop Soul tune. A slightly Latin rhythm and sounding like Paul Simon in the Seventies when he was singing of Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.

Kuaka is the Godwit and this is a celebration of one of the longest migratory flights. Rap is blended with soul and a great rhythm which keeps everything light and swinging. The music soars and flies.

Te Hokinga Mai is a companion piece to Ruru and unreleased on record to date. The Morepork is also regarded as the Guardian of the Underworld. In that capacity the song is also a tribute to the returning soldiers of the Maori Battalion. Melodic and more traditional Country. Emily has a pure tone singing style and sounds like Emmylou Harris here.

Kaka is a pure Rap braggadocio strut by Charles. On stage the humour is accentuated.They bring the Bo Diddley beat to the fore. I’m a man, I’m a man/ I fluff my tail up/ Give me credit/I’m just too cool. Girl Group backing vocals.

Of course, the music of Aro is not confined to children. I remember first hearing the music of Bob Dylan and Peter Paul and Mary as a seven-year old from our teachers singing. The same magic comes from the stage tonight.

Rev Orange Peel