EP Review:  Aro – He Manu Ano (Aro)

Aro are Charles and Emily Looker, a married couple who are developing a distinctive sound of Aotearoa New Zealand from familiar musical traditions.

In doing so, they can break through the boundaries that different languages can present. As music can convey meaning and emotion to dissolve barriers to understanding, and ultimately lead to acceptance and dissolving of prejudices.

They sing in te reo Maori. Five songs on the EP, each centered around a native bird. The launching point to tell stories of the wider narrative of the country.

They both attended the same Auckland University Bachelor of Music degree, the course specialising in song writing.

Their first album was bi-lingual and also presented songs based around native birds. This EP collects others from popular requests.

Kotare is the Kingfisher, with distinctive long beak, a multi-shade black coat with a yellow belly. The melody starts Folk-Pop and moves to smooth soul with voices blending nicely. A tribal haka chant at the end from Charles. Be vigilant, be brave. I think Emily’s voice is double-tracked and gives it a sweet sound.

Whaia te iti kahurangi/ Pursue that which is precious.

Pukeko has a simple riff which unfolds into a Funk Soul melody. This features Charles fashioning a haka into Rap. The recent protests around Ihumatao informs some of the sentiment on this song. The pukeko is a bold and brash bird. It can be aggressive and territorial. And as males are wont to do, he can come back to lands that were habitats to voice his opinion.

Huia is an iconic bird, long extinct and only sited sporadically from 1906 to 1970. This blends Folk and Soul, and is really lifted by the harmony singing from Emily, who sounds like the great female backing vocalists from Sixties Motown. Soul with jazz.                    Famous for shaking its tailfeathers, the bird was prized around the world. Huia feathers appeared with Maori Chiefs and English Royalty.

He mana ,mana, rangitira/ He mana kararanga nga tira nga hau e wha/ Kia kaha Aotearoa.      A prestigious song, the song of a leader/ One that knows how to weave the people together/ We can do this Aotearoa.

Aro has received funding to help develop programs for primary school children. Their work is to be used in online education starting this year. The oral transmission of story-telling delivered in song. Children also receive music without prior prejudice. It’s either good music or it’s not. What’s cool and what is not comes later.

Ruru is the morepork. The name is the voice and the song of the native owl. Soft Folk Pop and vocals like honey from Emily.

Kuaka starts with rhythm sticks and chants and quickly moves to a loping Reggae beat. The singing is Soul with some Gospel colour as the voices blend and move into the higher register.  It finishes on Te Reggae. Full of infectious hooks. This is the godwit, bird of the year about five years ago. One of the longest migratory paths. From Beringa near Alaska, to New Zealand.

A tona wa/ Ka tae ki uta/ Ka tika te rere ka tae ki te whenua.                                                             In due time/ We’ll make it to shore/ We’ll keep flying till we make it home.

Folk to Soul. Rap to Reggae. Hakas and Jazz. It’s not only children who will be into this.      

Rev Orange Peel