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Music of New Zealand

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Title: Music of New Zealand  
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Subject: Fakanau, Music of the Cook Islands, Māori music, Music of Niue, Music of Tokelau
Collection: New Zealand Music
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Music of New Zealand

Music of New Zealand
General topics
Specific forms
Ethnic music
Other influences
Media and performance
Music awards
Music charts
  • RIANZ official chart
Music festivals
Music media
Nationalistic and patriotic songs
National anthem

Popular New Zealand music has been influenced by blues, jazz, country, rock and roll and hip hop, with many of these genres given a unique New Zealand interpretation.[1][2] A number of popular artists have gone on to achieve international success including Split Enz, Crowded House, OMC, Bic Runga, Ladyhawke, The Naked and Famous, Fat Freddy's Drop, Flight of the Conchords, Brooke Fraser, and Lorde.[3]

Pre-colonial Māori music was based around a form of micro-tonal chanting, and instruments called taonga pūoro: a variety of blown, struck and twirled instruments made out of hollowed-out wood, stone, whale ivory, albatross bone, and human bone. In the nineteenth century, European settlers brought musical forms to New Zealand including brass bands and choral music, and musicians began touring New Zealand in the 1860s.[4][5] Pipe bands became widespread during the early 20th century.[6]

New Zealand has a national orchestra and many regional orchestras. A number of New Zealand composers have developed international reputations. The most well-known include Douglas Lilburn,[7] John Psathas,[8] Jack Body,[9] Gillian Whitehead,[10] Jenny McLeod,[11] Gareth Farr,[12] Ross Harris,[13] and Martin Lodge.[14]


  • Māori music 1
    • Taonga pūoro 1.1
    • Contemporary Māori music 1.2
  • Pop 2
    • Top-selling singles and albums 2.1
    • Radio airplay 2.2
  • Rock, alternative, and indie 3
  • Hip hop 4
  • Roots, reggae, and dub 5
  • Electronica 6
  • Blues 7
  • Heavy metal 8
    • Darkwave, gothic, and industrial 8.1
  • European folk music 9
    • Brass bands 9.1
    • Highland pipe bands 9.2
  • Classical and art music 10
    • Orchestras and chamber music 10.1
    • Choirs 10.2
    • Opera 10.3
    • Soloists 10.4
  • Musical theatre 11
  • See also 12
  • References 13
  • External links 14

Māori music

Māori culture group at 1981 Nambassa festival.

Pre-European Māori singing was micro-tonal, with a repeated melodic line that did not move far from a central note. Group singing was in unison or doubled in octaves. With origins in ancient South-East Asian cultures, the sound of these chants was described by early European settlers as "monotonous" and "doleful".[15]

Taonga pūoro

Pre-European instrumental music was played on taonga pūoro, a variety of blown, struck and twirled instruments made out of hollowed-out wood, stone, whale ivory, albatross bone, and human bone.[16] The pūkāea (wooden trumpet), hue (gourd), and pūtātara (conch shell trumpet) fulfilled many functions within pre-colonial Māori society, including a call to arms, dawning of the new day, communications with the gods and the planting of crops.[17] Taonga pūoro have been revived over the past thirty years by Dr Richard Nunns, Hirini Melbourne, and Brian Flintoff.

Contemporary Māori music

European settlers brought new harmonies and instruments which were gradually adopted by Māori composers. The action song (waiata-ā-ringa) was largely developed in the early 20th century.[18]

In the mid to late 20th century, Māori singers and songwriters like Howard Morrison, Prince Tui Teka, Dalvanius Prime, Moana Maniapoto and Hinewehi Mohi developed a distinctive Māori-influenced style.[19] Some artists have released Māori language songs, and the Māori traditional art of kapa haka (song and dance) has had a resurgence.[20]


New Zealand's first pop song was "Blue Smoke", written in the 1940s by Ruru Karatiana.[21] Pixie Williams recorded the song in 1949 and, although it went triple platinum in New Zealand, the award for selling 50,000 copies of the song was only presented to Pixie Williams on 13 July 2011.[22] The advent of music television shows in the 1960s[23] led to the rise of Sandy Edmonds, one of New Zealand's first pop stars.[24]

Formed in the early 1970s and variously featuring Phil Judd and brothers Tim Finn and Neil Finn, the Split Enz achieved chart success in New Zealand, Australia, and Canada ‒ most notably with their 1980 single I Got You - and build a cult following elsewhere. The videos for some of the band's 1980s songs were among the first played on MTV. In 1985, Neil Finn formed pop rock band Crowded House in Melbourne, Australia. The other founding members were Australians Paul Hester and Nick Seymour. Later band members included Neil's brother Tim Finn and Americans Mark Hart and Matt Sherrod. Originally active from 1985 to 1996, the band have had consistent commercial and critical success in Australia and New Zealand[25][26][27] and international chart success in two phases, beginning with their self-titled debut album, Crowded House, which reached number twelve on the US Album Chart in 1987 and provided the Top Ten hits, Don't Dream It's Over and Something So Strong.[28][29] Further international success came in the UK and Europe with their third and fourth albums, Woodface and Together Alone and the compilation album Recurring Dream, which included the hits Fall at Your Feet, Weather with You, Distant Sun, Locked Out, Instinct and Not the Girl You Think You Are.[30][31] Queen Elizabeth II bestowed an OBE on both Neil and Tim Finn, in June 1993, for their contribution to the music of New Zealand.[32]

Top-selling singles and albums

The top-selling New Zealand pop song of all time is How Bizarre by OMC. The song went to number one in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Ireland, South Africa and Austria. It spent 36 weeks on the United States Billboard's Hot 100 airplay charts, peaking at number 4. It reached number five in the United Kingdom, and it made the Top 10 in Portugal and Israel.[33]

In 2008, folk parody duo Flight of the Conchords found international success with their eponymous album. The album debuted at number three on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, selling about 52,000 copies in its first week.[33]

In 2011, New Zealand singer Kimbra collaborated with Belgian-Australian singer Gotye on his song Somebody That I Used To Know. The song topped the US, UK, Australian and 23 other national charts, and reached the top 10 in more than 30 countries around the world. The song has sold more than 13 million copies worldwide, becoming one of the best-selling digital singles of all time.[34]

In September 2013, 16-year-old singer Lorde reached the American and Canadian Top 5 with her single "Royals", becoming the highest-selling female New Zealand musician in the United States ever. At the 56th Annual Grammy Awards, Lorde received four nominations and won Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance.

Radio airplay

The New Zealand recording industry began to develop from 1940 onwards.[1] The Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ) publishes New Zealand's official weekly record charts.[35] The Association also holds the annual New Zealand Music Awards which were first held in 1965 as the Loxene Golden Disc awards.[36]

Despite the vitality of New Zealand bands in the pub scene, for many years commercial radio was reluctant to play locally produced material and by 1995 only 1.6% of all songs played on commercial radio stations were of New Zealand origin.[37] In 1997 a government Kiwi Music Action Group was formed to compel radio stations to broadcast New Zealand music. The group initiated New Zealand Music Week and in 2000 this grew into New Zealand Music Month. By 2005 New Zealand content averaged between 19 and 20 percent.[38]

Rock, alternative, and indie

Kiwi rock is a term used informally to describe New Zealand rock music and the culture surrounding rock music in New Zealand.

The first rock'n'roll hit by a New Zealander was Johnny Devlin's hit Lawdy Miss Clawdy, which sold 100,000 copies in 1959-60. Rock developed in New Zealand in the 1960s. Prominent bands included The La De Das, Ray Columbus & The Invaders, and The Fourmyula.

By the late 1970s, some New Zealand rock bands were finding national success, including Th' Dudes (whose guitarist Dave Dobbyn formed DD Smash in the 1980s), Dragon, Hello Sailor and Split Enz, fronted by Tim Finn, and later, his brother Neil Finn, who went on to form Crowded House. Independent music in New Zealand began in the latter half of the 1970s, with the development of a local punk rock scene.[39]

In the 1980s several independent labels like Propeller Records in Auckland and the Flying Nun record label in Christchurch were established and became influential in the development of modern New Zealand rock music. The Clean from Dunedin was the first major band to emerge from the Flying Nun roster. Most of the first wave of the musicians and bands signed to Flying Nun originated from Dunedin and Christchurch, and helped to develop the Dunedin Sound. During the early 1980s the label's distinctive jangle-pop sound was established by bands such as The Chills, The Verlaines, The Dead C, Sneaky Feelings, The Bats and The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience.

Rock band Shihad was formed by vocalist/guitarist Jon Toogood and drummer Tom Larkin in 1988. The band found wide popularity over the following decade playing a mixture of modern rock, post-grunge and pop-rock. With the release of their seventh studio album Beautiful Machine, Shihad ranked first equal for most Top 40 charting singles for a New Zealand artist in the New Zealand charts, with 19.

New independent labels were developed in the 1990s, and an alternative pop sound developed, typified by bands and artists including The Brunettes, Goldenhorse and The Phoenix Foundation.

Hip hop

The genesis of New Zealand hip hop began with the rise of the hip hop culture in the United States.

Many of New Zealand's first hip hop performers, such as Dalvanius Prime, whose Poi E was a major hit, were Māori. Poi E had no rapping, but marked a shift from reggae and funk favoured by Māori musicians.

The first entire album of locally produced hip hop was Upper Hutt Posse's E Tu EP, from 1988. E Tu was partially in Māori and partially in English, and its lyrics were politically charged.

The first major New Zealand hip hop hit was Hip Hop Holiday by 3 The Hard Way. Sampling the song Dreadlock Holiday by 10CC, it went to number one for several weeks in early 1994 and was also an Australian hit.

In the 1990s, the New Zealand hip hop scene grew with the added input of Pacific Island musicians, creating a local variant style known as Urban Pasifika. 'Protest' content was still present, but lyrical and musical emphasis had largely evolved into a more chart-friendly sound.

In 2005, Savage, a New Zealand Samoan hip hop artist, had back-to-back number one hits with Swing and Moonshine, the latter featuring US artist Akon. Swing was used in the 2007 film Knocked Up and sold more than 1.8 million copies in the United States, making it almost double platinum. The song also appeared on the US compilation Now That's What I Call Music! 29.

Roots, reggae, and dub

Formed in 1979, Herbs are a New Zealand reggae vocal group and the 11th inductee into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame. In 1986, the song "Slice of Heaven" with Dave Dobbyn reached number one on both the New Zealand and Australian charts. In 1989, Tim Finn joined them for the Parihaka festival and, in 1992, Annie Crummer fronted the hit single "See What Love Can Do". Herbs are considered pioneers of the Pacific reggae sound, having paved the way for contemporary New Zealand reggae groups such as Breaks Co-op, Fat Freddy's Drop, Katchafire, Kora, The Black Seeds, and Trinity Roots.


An early example of New Zealand electronica is a track called Pulsing released in 1982 by The Body Electric.[40] In 1988 Propeller Records released New Zealand's first House record, Jam This Record. There were sporadic recordings over the next few years; notably the work of Joost Langeveld, Angus McNaughton, and DLT. The Future Jazz scene (the term was first coined in Auckland in the early 1990s) developed in Auckland around the Cause Celebre nightclub and the work of Nathan Haines, with two notable early releases including Freebass Live At Cause Celebre and Haines' Shift Left.

In the late 1990s a number of independent labels began releasing electronica, including Chris Chetland's Kog Transmissions, Simon Flower's Nurture Records, Loop Recordings, and, Joost Langeveld's Reliable Records.

For the last 15 years, artists such as Concord Dawn, Minuit, Bulletproof and Shapeshifter have become prominent performers both within New Zealand and internationally.


The history of blues in New Zealand dates from the 1960s. The earliest blues influences on New Zealand musicians originated with white British blues musicians like The Animals and The Rolling Stones, and later the blues-tinged rock of groups such as Led Zeppelin. The first American blues artist to make a big impact in New Zealand was Stevie Ray Vaughan in the early 1980s. Other blues-related genres such as soul and gospel almost completely by-passed New Zealand audiences, except for a handful of hits from cross-over artists such as Ray Charles. While New Zealand does not have its own blues style, it does have some fine blues musicians.

Heavy metal

New Zealand has several well-known heavy metal bands including Ulcerate, Dawn of Azazel, Blindspott, 8 Foot Sativa, and The Datsuns.

Darkwave, gothic, and industrial

New Zealand has maintained a small dark music scene which dates back to the 1970s and 1980s.

Throughout the mid to late 1990s, regular events such as Club Bizarre were held, and between 2000 - 2010, events like Circadian Rhythms, Auckland Goth Ball, and The Church were held at various venues around central Auckland.

In recent years Creative New Zealand (New Zealand's Arts Council) has provided funding for some darkwave/experimental artists such as Jordan Reyne. Most bands and musicians in the genre continue to support themselves through overseas internet sales.

European folk music

Brass bands

Twilight bagpipe band practice, Napier.

New Zealand has a proud history of brass bands, with regular provincial contests.[41]

Highland pipe bands

New Zealand is said to have more pipebands per person than Scotland;[42] historical links are maintained by Caledonian Societies throughout the country.

Classical and art music

The formal traditions of European classical music took a long time to develop in New Zealand due to the country's geographical isolation. Composers such as Alfred Hill were educated in Europe and brought late Romantic Music traditions to New Zealand. He attempted to graft them on to New Zealand themes with one notable success, the popular "Waiata Poi". However, before 1960 New Zealand did not have a distinct classical style of its own, having "a tendency to over-criticise home-produced goods".[43]

Douglas Lilburn, working predominantly in the third quarter of the 20th century, is often credited with being the first composer to compose with a truly New Zealand voice and gain international recognition. Lilburn's Second Piano Sonatina was described as "a work which seems to draw on the best of Lilburn's past...specially suited to New Zealand."[44] He went on to pioneer electronic music in New Zealand.

In 2004, Wellington composer John Psathas achieved the largest audience for New Zealand-composed music when his fanfares and other music were heard by billions during the opening and closing ceremonies of the Athens 2004 Summer Olympics.

There are several twelve-month Composer-in-Residence positions available in New Zealand, notably with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and at the University of Otago (Mozart Fellowship).

Orchestras and chamber music

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is New Zealand's national orchestra and is funded by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra is New Zealand's second professional orchestra. There are also a number of semi-professional regional orchestras presenting their own concert series each year. These include the Opus Chamber Orchestra in Hamilton, the Orchestra Wellington, the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and the Southern Sinfonia in Dunedin.

The New Zealand String Quartet and the NZTrio both perform locally and internationally. The NZTrio specialises in contemporary art music.


New Zealand has a strong choral tradition.[45] The Anglican cathedrals in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch have choirs of a high standard and there are also a number of secular New Zealand choirs including the New Zealand Youth Choir, Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir, City of Dunedin Choir, Auckland Choral Society and Christchurch City Choir. Many of these choirs perform around New Zealand and compete against other choirs internationally.


New Zealand has produced a number of internationally famous opera singers, including Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Sir Donald McIntyre, Simon O'Neill, Jonathan Lemalu, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Anna Leese, and Dame Malvina Major. Frances Alda and Joan Hammond were both well-known New Zealand-born opera singers.

New Zealand Opera is the country's sole professional opera company. The company stages up to three operas a year in Auckland and Wellington and features international as well as New Zealand soloists.


Prominent New Zealand musicians performing internationally include pianists Michael Houstoun, Jeffrey Grice, John Chen, and singer Hayley Westenra.

Musical theatre

The most well-known musical theatre production written by a New Zealander is the Rocky Horror Show musical, written by Richard O'Brien, and first performed on stage in London during 1973.[46]

See also


  1. ^ a b Swarbrick, Nancy (June 2010). "Creative life – Music". Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 21 January 2011. 
  2. ^ Southgate, William (September 1977). "Current Developments in New Zealand music".  
  3. ^ "Lorde's 'Royals' Reigns On Hot 100 for Eighth Week". 
  4. ^ McLintock, Alexander, ed. (April 2009) [originally published in 1966]. "Music: General History". from An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 15 February 2011. 
  5. ^ McLintock, Alexander, ed. (April 2009) [originally published in 1966]. "Music: Brass Bands". from An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 14 April 2011. 
  6. ^ McLintock, Alexander, ed. (April 2009) [originally published in 1966]. "Music: Pipe Bands". from An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 14 April 2011. 
  7. ^ > "Story: Lilburn, Douglas Gordon". 
  8. ^ "John Psathas composer profile". 
  9. ^ "Jack Body composer profile". 
  10. ^ "Gillian Whitehead composer profile". 
  11. ^ "Jenny McLeod composer profile". 
  12. ^ > "Gareth Farr composer profile". 
  13. ^ > "Ross Harris composer profile". 
  14. ^ > "Martin Lodge composer profile". 
  15. ^ McLintock, Alexander, ed. (April 2009) [originally published in 1966]. "Maori Music". from An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 15 February 2011. 
  16. ^ McLintock, Alexander, ed. (April 2009) [originally published in 1966]. "Musical Instruments". from An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 16 February 2011. 
  17. ^ "Te Papa: National Museum of New Zealand: Online Resources - Taonga Puoro". 
  18. ^ Linkels, Ad (2000). "The real music of paradise". In Broughton, S., & Ellingham, M. (eds.), World music, vol. 2: Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific, pp 218–229. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0.
  19. ^ New Zealand in Brief, Story: Creative life
  20. ^ Swarbrick, Nancy (June 2010). "Creative life – Performing arts". Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 21 January 2011. 
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ Kiwi music shows on TV - Timeline
  24. ^
  25. ^   (NOTE: Used for Australian Singles and Albums charts from 1974 until ARIA created their own charts in mid-1988. In 1992, Kent back calculated chart positions for 1970–1974)
  26. ^ "Discography Crowded House"
  27. ^ "Discography Crowded House"
  28. ^ "Crowded House > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles" Allmusic
  29. ^ "Crowded House > Charts & Awards > Billboard Albums" Allmusic
  30. ^ Bourke (1997)
  31. ^ "Artists > Crowded House"] Chart Stats
  32. ^ Hunkin, Joanna (3 May 2007). "Finn 'sick' of PM grabbing music glory".  
  33. ^ a b "How bizarre (Ministry for Culture and Heritage)". 30 Aug 2012. Retrieved 14 November 2012. 
  34. ^ "My Secret Life: Gotye, 32, singer-songwriter". The Independent. Retrieved 1 September 2012.
  35. ^ "About RIANZ – Introduction". Recording Industry Association of New Zealand. Retrieved 23 January 2012. 
  36. ^ "History – celebrating our music since 1965".  
  37. ^ New Zealand history online
  38. ^ "Brendan Smyth, Music Manager at NZ On Air, on New Zealand Music Month"url="". 
  39. ^ Churton, Wade Ronald (1999, 2001). Have You Checked The Children? Punk and Postpunk Music in New Zealand, 1977–1981 Christchurch, New Zealand: Put Your Foot Down Publishing. ISBN 0-473-06196-1
  40. ^ "Pulsing by Body Electric". 
  41. ^ "Brass Bands". 
  42. ^ "Piping up a storm Down Under", March 2000, BBC
  43. ^ Sell, David (Spring 1962). "The Composer in New Zealand". Composer (9): 21. 
  44. ^ Platt, Peter (1963). Composer (12). 
  45. ^ > "Choral Societies". 
  46. ^ Abbott, Kate (4 March 2013). "How we made: The Rocky Horror Picture Show". The Guardian (London). 

External links

  • SOUNZ – Centre for New Zealand Music.
  • RIANZ – New Zealand's official weekly singles and albums chart.
  • CMNZ – Chamber Music New Zealand
  • New Zealand Choirs - New Zealand Festival Singers
  • NZCF - New Zealand Choral Federation
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