Keeping te reo Māori relevant through music is a life calling for Rei.
The rising urban artist’s ability to smoothly swap between te reo Māori and English in his rhymes and songs is nothing short of impressive.
But Callum Rei McDougall, better known as Rei, wasn’t always bilingual — perfecting his te reo Māori and progressing as an artist have always gone hand-in-hand.
The Auckland-based artist is part of a movement of musicians pushing the boundaries of how te reo Māori music should sound, in efforts to modernise the language and keep it relevant for younger generations.
“The style of te reo music that I do is quite different because I use a lot of transliteration and youth slang,” Rei tells Mountain Scene.
“If that language doesn’t evolve then it dies, so it’s about keeping it alive.’’
While Rei’s sounds are distinctively Kiwi, his style of music doesn’t fit within the confines of a box, comprising hip-hop, R’n’B and pop influences.
In what comes as a rewarding surprise, his ability to capture Kiwi culture in catchy tunes is being enjoyed by fans beyond New Zealand borders.
Good Mood, a feel-good summer single off his latest album, The Bridge, reached number one on the US Spotify viral chart in December.
It knocked pop superstar Ariana Grande from the top spot.
It was humble beginnings for the 24-year-old, whose passion for music started as a teenager, making beats in his Wellington bedroom.
Rei, of Ngāti Raukawa, would record his music on to CDs and give them to the whānau for Christmas presents.
After graduating from Victoria University, the rapper moved to Auckland and started working with Kog studio and highly-regarded mix engineer Chris Chetland.
Currently on an eight-date tour around NZ, Rei is promoting his third album, The Bridge, which is mostly in English but stays true to his kaupapa.
His second album, Rangatira, is recorded entirely in te reo Māori.
“I try to stay authentic to who I am, so I use a lot of NZ references.
“I have an overarching kaupapa or theme of self-empowerment of being a chief of your own environment and your own life.”
– Miranda Cook
Rei hits Yonder’s stage at 8pm tonight. The event is free.