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Aro - Album Review: He Rakau, He Ngarara

21 Apr 2024 // A review by Danica Bryant

Tamaki Makaurau based husband & wife duo Charles & Emily Looker, otherwise known as Aro, escape genre boundaries on their fourth body of work, He Rakau, He Ngarara. Aro's waiata draw from country and folk, jazz, and shades of haka, making for a collection that often purposefully creates sonic whiplash in a stunning exploration of sound and kaitiakitanga and manaakitanga.

Opening track Mahoe Me Patate introduces listeners to the album's core theme of whakapapa and growing alongside one's family and natural world. Emily's honeyed vocal tones kick things off, smooth and relaxed with a subtle jazz lean. She's soon backed by a chanted gang vocal that opens up the soundscape, creating the sensation that Aro are making this project alongside the spirits of generations gone by. Indeed, it's a project shaped by many hands. Recorded live in studio with producer Vivek Gabriel and citing a long list of musical performers outside of the Lookers alone, there's a consistent live feel that makes each song feel lived-in and from the heart.

Nonetheless, there's a real charisma to when Aro strip back to just a duo. The charismatic harmonies on Totara emphasise their strong connection, as not only partners in music but in life. Pukatea opts for a laidback country style, softly opening with light acoustic guitars and slides, then blossoming into an expansive full band finale. This is one of the record's most from the heart moments in its textured, soulful melodies. And its real-world approach is exactly what makes the following track, Namupoto, so beautifully jarring. This tune is heavily synth-based, opting for a dark and gritty sound blended with a lyrical desire to build a legacy. Emily's powerful voice twists and turns, not so much the lead of the track but a deeply ingrained part of its instrumental. Even better, there's a fierce guitar solo outro that instantly transforms Namupoto into one of the album's true standouts.

But the greatest feature of He Rakau, He Ngarara is Pounui, which Aro rightfully describe as the heart of the album. The performance switches between Charles' deep, smoky chanting, and the incredibly atmospheric sounds of nature and taonga puoro. There's an eerie quality to the finished product that makes Charles' vocal all the more hard-hitting. As its centerpiece, Pounui locks in on the unmistakably Aotearoa sound of the record, and the most crucial messages and ideas Aro seek to convey.

The infectious upbeat melodies on Tatarakihi switches things up again. Contrasting the darker songs before it, this one simmers with the heat of the Kiwi summer. Ukuleles, brass flourishes and chirping crickets litter the production, breathing life into the album right at the point where it begins to slow. The slick grooves of Weta follow, a track that emphasises an impressive pop sensibility in its dreamy hook. "I hear the starlight calling out into the night", Aro sing together. By this point in He Rakau, He Ngarara, the sonic palette has traversed many a genre. But what brings it all together is the deep-rooted cohesion and unity between Emily and Charles Looker, so palpable you can almost see it.

Aro's collective research into matauranga Maori, and involvement from members of the duo's iwi and hapu, makes for a breathtaking musical collection in He Rakau, He Ngarara. It is a carefully constructed, multifaceted journey through indigenous culture in the modern day. But this album's selling point is not its overall sound or theme. What makes this record so enjoyable is the raw passion on display between Emily and Charles Looker, who simply know how to make beautiful, rich, powerful music.


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 Rakau, He Ngarara
Year: 2024
Type: Album
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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