EP Review: Aro Release He Wai

Aro – husband-and-wife duo Emily Rice and Charles Looker, are developing their unique blend of Folk Pop with te reo Maori, and this EP He Wai has the sound to make them Aotearoa’s own Womack and Womack.

Their last EP He Manu Ano with its theme around native birds was all te reo. This one is combined with English like their debut album Manu.

Taniwha. Starts with an invocation in te reo. Then… The dragon stone/ I think I heard one say/ Do you remember me? / From olden days. Rice sings subtle and seductive. Folk with Soul and pitch perfect. Judy Collins rather than Joanie or Joni. No affectations, just smooth and mellifluous.

The sound is soft Jazz drums with added electronic percussion. Ambient melodic washes of Folk Pop.

Whai. The honey voice sings.  Why weren’t you honest? / Telling me this, telling me that/ If you’d just told me the truth/ But you kept me in the dark/ That broke my heart. The male haka comes in like a chant or a melodic Rap. The te reo voice shares with Rap the use of words in a rhythmic sense to become a musical instrument.


There may be a historical parallel. Rap evolved out of the Dozens as an oral tradition of trading insults with cutting humour to avoid violent physical confrontation. The haka serves a similar purpose. The All Blacks spend a lot of time practicing and perfecting their haka. Occasionally they smash their opponents.

Wheke. Looker steps out as a singer. Has the soft soulful tenor of some of the later Motown vocalists like El DeBarge. But also, of Cecil Womack whose whakapapa includes brother Bobby, Sam Cooke and again Motown. They combine as singers in a way that leads to the Womack and Womack comparison.

Tuna. When Looker sings in te reo, he mostly conveys a tribal or earthy element. Echoing the original Country Blues in spirit. Then comes the softer melodic Folk Country.

Tohoroa. A flute playing in the ether. You were always there for me/ When I’m lost in the ocean/ Oh Brother, you hear me. The replies come in te reo. Simple percussion, spacious instrumentation. The song rises up and enfolds with melodic Folk Pop.

Aro are developing a sound which will help keep a language alive and vibrant, rather than merely surviving. It’s great if you can sing and dance to it. They are involved in performing music in schools.

Cast your dancing spell my way. I promise to go under it.

Rev Orange Peel                

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Aro – He Wai’ Release Tour Dates (More TBC in 2022)

Tickets available via undertheradar & aromusic.co.nz/shows

Sept Shows (Cancelled):
Saturday 4th September- Bellamys Gallery – Dunedin
Saturday 11th September – House with no Nails – Wardville / Matamata
Friday 17th September – 4th Wall Theatre – New Plymouth
Thursday 23rd September – Le Cafe – Picton
Friday 24th September – Boathouse – Nelson
October Shows:
Saturday 9th October – D’vine Oasis – Russell
Labour Weekend – Wellington Folk Festival
Saturday October 30th – Music on the Mall – Onehunga
NB: The 2021 ‘He Wai’ dates scheduled during September have unfortunately been cancelled due to the current Covid 19 outbreak.