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SPADA 2010: Paki Up

The opening of this presentation by the Maori Television Service, a song presented by the barbershop-style Pakipaki Quartet, might have come as a surprise to some people unfamiliar with Maori cultural protocols – especially as the song was not a Maori one at all. But the logic would become clearer…

MTS’s Head of Programming Carol Hirschfeld and General Manager Programming Haunui Royal introduced a session exploring the whys and wherefores of the huge success of Homai Te Pakipaki, a Friday night prime-time karaoke show where viewers vote by text for their favourite novice performers. Hirschfeld, a high-profile personality on TV3 till she moved to MTS 14 months ago, pointed out that Homai Te Pakipaki has a viewership of 250,000 – great ratings for NZ in anyone’s terms.

The Maori Television Service began in 2004 with a kaupapa of helping to revive te reo Maori and Maori culture. What has become clear is that the response to their programming reinforces the fact that television is an entertainment medium. Using the “Poi E meets Michael Jackson” finale of Boy to illustrate, Haunui Royal pointed out how songs like Poi E are Maori language songs, but pop songs nevertheless – containing elements of pre-European culture, but always blended with western pop culture – a fusion. After all, Royal said, the key to Maori survival has always been the ability to adapt.

A show-reel was presented, in which technical skill (camera, editing, etc) of the highest level shone through. The show’s participants were seen to be Maori from all over NZ, making comments like, “I was brought up in CYFS, but I pulled through and I’m still standing” and “I said to my friend, stop telling me to pull my guts in all the time!”

Producer Erina Tamepo was responsible for the tagline, “The show that rocks your whare!” She explained that they wanted a show that Maori everywhere could feel part of, but that also had values. It’s about turning ordinary people into stars, but also “making them feel part of the whole Maori thing”.

“They might sound like tomcats, but they thought they had what it takes to perform on TV – and who are we to judge?”

Nevertheless, there is an audition and selection process. But even those who don’t get to appear on the show still get the opportunity to be part of the studio process, to have that unique experience. Anyone and everyone is welcome to have a go – those who refuse TV makeup, aunties who want to wear their beanies, those who go barefoot or even turn up in pyjamas.

According to Matai Smith, a presenter on the show, what sets the show apart is the applicants’ rawness, coupled with their passion to be there. Important is the fact that they’re not there just for themselves, they’re representing their whanau. The programme makers don’t mock the participants, but many participants grab the opportunity to mock themselves – and really enjoy doing so. Then there are the successful spin-off – like the Pakipaki Quartet.

The future? More money would be great – especially since many people ask when the show might come to their little town, the chance to tour the show would be welcomed. But more money is not likely anytime soon, of course.

Reflecting on the state of te reo in NZ, Royal pointed out that at nearby Auckland Grammar School a student couldn’t learn Maori but could learn Latin: “Now there’s a really dead language!” But one can learn Maori in the institution right next door to AGS – Mount Eden prison.

The presentation concluded with the return of the Pakipaki Quartet – this time with another quintessential Maori/Western crossover pop song, and probably the most successful ever: a superb rendition of E Ipo.

At the conclusion of the session I heard a couple of comments from delegates to the effect that this MTS session was a waste of time. This patronising viewpoint, in which one detected a whiff of (probably unconscious) racism as well as elitism, utterly missed the point.

Many platitudes are spoken these days about “interactive television” and “reaching into the community”, when what is actually meant is often simply the attempt to find new ways of delivering customers to advertisers. Homai Te Pakipaki, on the other hand, is a brilliant example of a television network actually and genuinely engaging with its community, building that community’s sense of self-worth, and doing so in a superbly entertaining way. How to make successful, quality television that people want to watch? The lesson is right there in front of us – at least, for those of us willing to drop our preconceptions, open our eyes and see.

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