5 April 2019, Common Room
By Rosheen Fitzgerald
Something beautiful flitted into Common Room on a Friday night. Aro, short for Aroha, are aptly named. Love flows between and around this husband and wife duo, radiating out to all who hear their call. They’re travelling in a van from the Bay of Islands to Stewart Island, sharing their debut album the length and breadth of the country.
Manu is ten tracks inspired by native birds, blending Emily’s honey voiced jazz with Charles’ full throated percussive sound with shades of kapa haka. They harmonise in Te Reo, Charles’ first language, voices soaring in imitation of the flights and calls of the birds they immortalise in song. Its a glorious education, with the interspersed korero fleshing out the characteristics of the birds and their connection to Te Ao Maori. They speak of ‘finding’ songs as though they are fulfilling an almost shamanic role, translating the nuances of nature into music. There are moments of ethereal mana, such as the haunting introduction to Weka. There’s a healthy dose of humour too. Kererū pokes fun at the indulgence of the birds who can be frequently seen drunk on berries, while Kākā charactarises the famously preening parrot as a validation seeking buff young man, posting selfies online.
If you’re thinking it all sounds deliciously whimsical you’d be right. There’s something delightful in the details — the backlit backdrop depicting koru, ferns and pīwakawaka in shadow; the feathered headpieces — a twin quilled raukura for him, a Wes Anderson-esque plumage for her – echoing the flapper era from which her voice harkens. It all adds up to a warmth of experience, wholly original, anchored in Aotearoa, that left all who had been present to it with the feeling of having been let in on a special secret.