Contemporary quartet: Phil Boniface, Ruby Solly, Ariana Tikau and Alistair Fraser will perform at the Whakatipu Music Festival this weekend


Opening the Whakatipu Music Festival tonight, contemporary quartet Tararua will showcase the haunting sounds of taonga pūoro.

Combining taonga pūoro (traditional Māori instruments), waiata, karakia, and pūrākau (story), with western instruments, Tararua are in the vanguard of a music revolution — blurring genres and re-imagining composition to create evocative soundscapes.

The Wellington-based group is comprised of taonga pūoro musicians Ariana Tikao (Kāi Tahu) and Alistair Fraser, bassist Phil Boniface, and cellist and taonga pūoro musician Ruby Solly.

The group not only weaves taonga pūoro with the cello and double bass, but also threads vocals with spoken word in both te reo and English, Tikao says.

‘‘Taonga pūoro encompasses a whole range of instruments including Māori flutes of bone, stone, and wood, as well as percussion instruments, and instruments such as pūkāea and pūtātara that have more trumpet-like voices.’’

Tikao, who is also a New Zealand Arts Laureate, says the music draws on the whakapapa of different members.

‘‘The blending of the two musical traditions is a lovely exploration of our shared histories and the fact that Māori and Tauiwi have lived on these islands together for the last 200 years.

‘‘Some of the music is also influenced by Ruby’s Ashkenazi Jewish heritage … Ruby and I are Kāi Tahu so that is a big influence in terms of the kaupapa and narratives that we include in the music.’’

The name Tararua means ‘‘two peaks’’ and connects whakapapa from mountains in both the North and South Island — linking Aoraki, the tūrakawaewae (tribal home) of Solly and Tikao, to Boniface’s birthplace in the Tararua Ranges.

“It relates to the fact that although the group is North Island-based, each have a strong whakapapa or ancestral connection to Te Waipounamu, the South Island.’’

Forming in 2019 after experimenting together and finding the music worth exploring, Tararua received a Creative New Zealand grant to compose a set of music, which became the basis of their debut album, Bird Like Men, released in July last year.

‘‘The themes are universal … including birth, whānau relationships and whakapapa, the sharing of knowledge across generations, as well as star lore and some of our traditional stories specific to Kāi Tahu including the Southern Lights and southern Māori rock art.’’

Tikau says after years of development together, they are ‘‘looking forward to a homecoming of sorts’’ from a string of performances in the South Island.

‘‘We are looking forward to playing in Te Waipounamu together which will be our debut performance as a group on our home turf, which is pretty significant really.’’

Tararua will open the Whakatipu Music Festival tonightat Queenstown Memorial Centre.

Tikau and Fraser will also host a talk tomorrow at Hotel St Moritz, exploring the origins of taonga pūoro specific to the Central Otago region.

Whakatipu Music Festival programme

7.30pm: Festival opening concert, Queenstown Memorial Centre

10.30am: Public talk – ‘Understanding Taonga Pūoro’, Hotel St Moritz
12.30pm: Community showcase, Queenstown Memorial Centre
1.30pm: Public talk – ‘Magic At the Edges’, Starkwhite Gallery
3pm: Young artist recitals, Queenstown Memorial Centre
7:30pm: Festival artists concert, Queenstown Memorial Centre

12.30pm: Community showcase, Queenstown Memorial Centre
3pm: Young artist recitals, Queenstown Memorial Centre
7.30pm: Young artists chamber concert, Queenstown Memorial Centre

12pm: Grand finale, Queenstown Memorial Centre

For tickets and more info, visit