Tiki Taane on scoring new film Ka Whawhai Tonu: ‘We shed DNA on that battlefield’

Musician Tiki Taane and composer Arli Lieberman went “really deep” while composing the score for the new historical Māori film Ka Whawhai Tonu.

For Taane, whose ancestors fought in the 1864 battle the film depicts, the subject matter was very personal.

“We shed DNA on that battlefield. So it was a double one for me – not only making music for this incredible story and narrative but also tapping it into my ancestry as well,” he told Music 101 host Charlotte Ryan.  

“Sometimes it was amazing and beautiful and sometimes it was like ‘Whoa. This is really intense!'” 

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Taane first met Israeli-born Lieberman when they were both performing at a yoga retreat festival.

“He was there with his long hair and the shirt off, playing all this beautiful, beautiful music while people were meditating and yoga-ing … Watching him create these soundscapes I was like ‘Okay, well, he’s another level’.”

The softness and delicacy of Lieberman’s soundscapes – including the Ka Whawhai Tonu soundtrack – marked a new direction for Taane, who said his own previous music was “more big and woo-hoo”.

“That’s something I’ve never done before … and something that I’ll really push forward more, the softness and the delicate kind of sounds.”

Composer Arli Liberman recording the score for the 2024 film Ka Whawhai Tonu

In Ka Whawhai Tonu, the soundtrack was an “invisible sonic character”, Lieberman said. The pair created it with taonga pūoro (traditional Māori instruments) and Taane’s voice.

He and Taane both had a very strong feeling that rather than doubling up on the intense emotion of the film, they needed to create something that sounded sacred.

Given his personal connection to the story of Ka Whawhai Tonu, Taane said he was very glad to have Lieberman to bounce ideas off and laugh with.

“We go really deep and really push each other into spaces that are quite uncomfortable and quite unsettling – very vulnerable, absolutely vulnerable.

“You’re sitting there and you’re shedding your emotions and really letting these things come out of you and Arli’s there to capture it.”

Lieberman said Taane was one of his favourite songwriters. The pair each “really pushed our personal envelopes” on this job, he said.

“Very quickly, we realised that we were creating something special here. You can’t control it – you either have it or you don’t have it.

“Every few years, you end up having a project that has a special wairua – something special going on there. We both recognised it and we grabbed a hold of it.”

To conclude the intense cinematic journey of Ka Whawhai Tonu, director Mike Jonathan asked Taane and Lieberman to write a song that felt like a cleansing.

After the pair spoke about it, Taane headed to Lieberman’s porch with his guitar and returned about 40 minutes later with the hook and chorus of ‘Hold On To The Dream’.

Taane thought the voice of Louis Baker would suit the track’s message and was thankful the New Zealand soul singer agreed to perform it.

“He’s got this tone, the softness, and this incredible way of pulling you into his voice and into the song so it just felt right. “

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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