by Helen Martin
In September, Year 13 Kaipara College singer/songwriter Melody Gray-Hohepa (Ngâti Whatua, Ngâti Kahungunu) joined over 200 high school-aged singers and well-known local musicians performing in a concert at Vodafone Events Centre, Mangere. Held to raise money for Play It Strange, a trust providing pathways for young songwriters to record and perform their songs, the concert was attended by rock music legends Sir Bob Geldof and Mick Fleetwood, who selected the songs performed from among their favourites.
Melody’s selection to perform two pieces with acclaimed NZ musician Don McGlashan came on the back of her winning the Junior Maioha Award for Best Song in Te Reo Mâori at this year’s Play It Strange Lion Foundation Songwriting Competition. The concert experience began with rehearsals in the previous week, where Melody, Don and the band brought together for the gig spent time practising The Rolling Stones’ ‘Wild Horses’ and The Kinks’ ‘Waterloo Sunset’. Melody, who normally finds the harmony herself when she’s learning a song, says it was great being guided by a professional. “At first I was quite nervous, but when Don started breaking the song down, I thought, Oh, it’s just another person who likes music.”
The day of the concert began with a Q&A, held at Neil Finn’s Roundhead Studios and organised by former Split Enz member and Play it Strange CEO Mike Chunn, where NZ artists Anna Coddington and Kings, followed by Geldof and Fleetwood, talked candidly with 15 invited student songwriters. Melody was particularly impressed by Geldof’s strong presence and by the fact that he wanted to know about the students. “I was too scared to ask Bob Geldof a question, but most of the time he was asking us questions – Why are you doing music? Who do you write for? What do you write for? If you want it, why aren’t you going after it? - and it gave me a lot to think about as a musician.”
Melody has always been a singer and has taken a leading role at Kaipara College in many concerts and national competitions. Always interested in Te Ao Mâori (the Mâori world view) and Te Reo Mâori, she began writing songs when she joined the music option at Kaipara College in Year 10. “Pamamae, the song that won the Junior Maioha Award, is about suicide, and trying to prevent it. I don’t like writing songs about love or generic pop songs, almost all my songs are written as observations about social issues and life struggles,” she says.
Before the concert, McGlashan had Melody and the rest of the band play a clapping game to focus them on the task ahead. “It was really cool. Mostly I sing by myself, so being part of all that, and performing with Don, was amazing. The audience loved it too. When we finished, people screamed out for an encore.”
by Helen Martin