27 May 2022

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Aro - Single/Video Review: Tohora

09 Mar 2022 // A review by Kev Rowland

When it comes to describing the music of husband and wife Charles (Ngapuhi, Te Rarawa, Ngati Te Ata, Te Ati Awa) and Emily Looker (nee Rice), AKA Aro, I have long lost all rationality as I love what they do so very much indeed. I was devastated (as were they, to be honest) when their national tour was cancelled last year when we went into lockdown, as I have not heard anyone quite like them. They are both bilingual, and songs are often performed in a combination of Te Reo and English, and that is the case here. Emily takes the lead on this one, with her wonderfully clear vocals contrasting to the almost dance beat we get underneath, which in some ways has more in common with her solo work as Emily Rice. But Charles often joins his voice with hers, adding a wonderful high undertone which takes their vocals in a new direction.

The EP they released towards the end of the year, He Wai, was one of my favourites of 2021, making #3 in my own personal Top 10, and Tohora is the final track on that. It tells the story of how the whale is depicted in Maori legends, as a guardian, much like some people can be in our lives. The song is inspired by the story of kauri and the whale, and the voices and music take us back in time, to a much simpler world. The introduction is incredibly evocative, with calling pipes, gentle chords, and their voices blending and intertwining. From here Emily takes the lead, singing now in English, but the pipe and gentleness is still there before her and Charles are back in Te Reo. For the next verse she is back in English, but now there is a bass and some beats and electronic sounds taking it in a different direction before they lift their voices together. There is always a lightness within their music, plenty of space, so much so that one can walk inside and rest against the notes as they gently pass by. In many ways, their music is so grounded in Aotearoa that they become part of it, and I cannot imagine music quite like this being produced anywhere else.

A wonderful song like this needs an incredible video to match, and we have just that, providing the perfect combination of audio and video. We see Emily in the sea, and Charles in the forest, and then we cut away to two brothers, one in the water beckoning to his brother to leave the beach and come to him. Kauri declines, so Tohora comes onto the land to play, before returning to the sea and inviting Kauri to join him. They go under the waves, but Kauri is threatened by a fierce shark but is saved by Tohora who protects him. The brothers realise they cannot stay together, so Kauri goes back onto the land, and Tohora dives into the sea.

The story is incredibly powerful, and ties in so well with song that one can would think they had been crafted together. It takes us back to a different time, a different world even, one which it is good to remind ourselves of. This is a wonderful artistic endeavour which is very special indeed.

Watch the video here

Rating: ( 5 / 5 )

About Aro

Aro consists of husband and wife Charles (Ngapuhi, Te Rarawa, Ngati Te Ata, Te Ati Awa) and Emily Looker (nee Rice). The pair share a passion for the power of language and music to tell stories and remind us of our cultural identity. The duo were finalists for the Maioha Award at the Silver Scrolls (2019) and the APRA Best Children’s Song Award for their song Korimako (2020).

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Aro


He Wai
Year: 2021
Type: EP
He Manu Ano
Year: 2020
Type: EP
Year: 2019
Type: Album
Van Jams
Year: 2018
Type: EP
Year: 2017
Type: EP

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