Later this year, Horomona Horo will become the first New Zealand musician to perform at WOMEX in over a decade. Taking place from 23- 27 October in Cardiff, the vast music networking event, attracting producers, presenters and artists from around the world, will showcase the work of the traditional Maori composer and practitioner of the Taonga pūoro instruments.
Horo is represented by the Rotorua-based arts project management company and consultancy, Music Live. ‘WOMEX is a huge milestone and significant for any artist,’ says founder Elizabeth Woollacott. ‘Being based in New Zealand, [for us] it’s possibly the most powerful platform that we could access, to be seen by people from around the world – which is so necessary when you live so far away.’
Woollacott says a journey from NZ to a European destination takes at least 37 hours. ‘That means every showcase and performance has to count. Establishing networks and agents is absolutely vital to sustain the career of any NZ artist. There is no such thing as a quick trip for a meeting or an audition and in an industry where so much is face-to-face, that is a huge challenge.’
Live interaction with potential presenters and audiences is particularly important for Horo’s music – the artist has devoted the past 13 years to studying the Taonga pūoro instruments and performs them with a measured skill, as well as historical and cultural understanding. ‘We generally travel with at least 30 different instruments made from wood, bone, jade, shells, stone, and plant materials,’ says Woollacott. ‘To try and explain to someone how those are all used in performance is difficult. Live is everything.’
Earlier this year Horo performed at networking event Sounds Aotearoa, in New Plymouth, where Woollacott met a presenter she has a good relationship with, who had seen videos of Horo performing – but never live. ‘When she saw Horo at the event, she immediately wanted to present him in her country. She was completely upfront and said, ‘It wouldn’t have mattered what you had told me or what I had been shown. This kind of performance and experience is so outside of what I have seen before that I had to see it and experience it myself to know the power of it, and what it’s about.’ That went round in my head again and again. The conversation really brought it home to me, and I knew we needed to give the WOMEX application our best shot.’
Music Live’s success at securing Horo a spot on the coveted WOMEX showcase line-up comes during a season that Woollacott says has been the most productive and difficult in the organisation’s history.
‘A number of projects we’ve been developing and working on for the last three to four years are coming to fruition and maturity, others are midway, and others just beginning. It’s a different way of working with short term, long term and fixed term projects at various stages of development. Seeing the growth of each project, receptive audiences and the artists’ personal growth is really fulfilling.We’ve also been able to take on additional staff and start a summer internship programme.’
Other projects and artists on the Music Live books are New Zealand classical label, Atoll Records, which has released 40 albums into the international market in the past 12 months; New Zealand Chamber Soloists who will embark on a European tour next summer; and NZ conductor and composer Kenneth Young.
‘As a completely private performing arts project management consultancy, working within the NZ arts funding environment is always tricky,’ Woollacott says. ‘Each project needs its own funding to come from somewhere, but with little support for the management and business side of things, we need to make sure that the project budgets and plans are thorough and realistic, so that the dreams and artistic vision behind each one can be achievable.’
She adds that another challenge is securing intellectual property rights for traditional artists. ‘There is huge enthusiasm in New Zealand for celebrating and using Taonga pūoro, in a wide range of work, but securing the intellectual property rights for composers’ creative work remains a difficult road and each new situation must be handled with care and respect. Similar situations exist around the world for traditional artists and it is a difficult area, with understanding of ‘composition’ based very much within a Western context. This needs to be translated to the use of another cultural artform.’