Tonight I went to the movies to watch Poi E: The Story of our Song, written and directed by Tearepa Kahi. I guess the fact that it’s freezing outside, and that it’s a Monday night, accounts for the fact that my friend and I had the whole theatre to ourselves… and usually I’d have been stoked to not have to crane my neck around the tall dude sitting in front of me or to have to mentally fade out the mandatory movie cougher (and because I got to lie back with my feet on the seat in front). But tonight it just seemed wrong.
I’ve always loved Poi E, the song. I wonder if there’s a New Zealander who doesn’t. It’s part of our culture, as well as part of our pop music history – along with Six Months in a Leaky Boat and Slice of Heaven. Yet, weirdly, I had no idea when it was filmed, no idea about the woman who wrote it, the club who performed it, or the man who brought the whole thing together – Dalvanius Prime. Maybe I’m just too young (I was born the year before it was released). When I sat down to watch the movie, therefore, I wondered how anyone could possibly create a whole documentary about a single song. Woah – I had a few things to learn.
This documentary takes you on a journey from the small town of Patea all the way to England and back. You get to witness a community’s love for their songs, for their culture, and for one fat Maori dude who knew how to make music. There are moments when you have to have a wee giggle about just how ‘kiwi’ some people are – in fact, if I’d watched it while overseas I’d probably have been overcome with homesickness and flown right home (except, if you know me, then you know I’m not so much into glorifying the freezing works). But most importantly, the film addresses the stifling of Te Reo Maori that occurred, well, up until recently really, as well as the pigeon-holing of the whole Maori culture that took place (when there were only certain contexts when it was acceptable for people to speak Maori or to act in any way not white).
And so because, like most people, I’ve always just sung along to the “Poi e” part of the lyrics, sort of mumbling or humming over the rest, I decided to go home tonight and learn the full song. And then I sang it several times to myself, strumming on my guitar, not quite ever mastering all those syllables, but getting close enough!
Go see the film. No arguing. We need to support NZ film makers and become more culturally enlightened wherever possible. And here, of course, is the song itself!