Music review: Modern Maori Quartet: Two Worlds, Assembly George Square Studios

The quartet mix Elvis classics and traditional Maori songs. Picture: Contributed
The quartet mix Elvis classics and traditional Maori songs. Picture: Contributed
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Big Bro sang like a dream in his Maori showband but couldn’t find the words for the girl of his dreams. Koro lost more than his sanity on the battlefield of Monte Cassino, where the 28th Maori Battalion were thrown into battle against German infantry.

Modern Maori Quartet: Two Worlds, Assembly George Square Studios (Venue 17) ****

Uncle was beaten into angry rejection of his mother tongue because the Maori, like Gaelic speakers, were punished for using languages other than English. He’s accused of being a potato – white on the inside, dirty brown on the outside.

New Zealand’s Modern Maori Quartet return to the Edinburgh Fringe with a new show, after a slightly uncertain first outing last year. With Two Worlds they deliver a story of denial, in which the much younger Bub, who “didn’t leave the small town all that much” is thrown into a combustible mix of passionate history, personal and tribal. The plot device is occasionally overstretched, but the journey into what it means to be Maori today provides a moving, bitter-sweet backdrop to beautiful delivery of both European and Maori song.

Float On, by the Floaters, sets the tone; after a throbbing version of Break Free, Quando, Quando, led by James Tito, was a particular highlight. Francis Kora leads off as Elvis duelling with Maori classics for Uncle’s soul. With Tainui Kuru and Matariki Whatarau rounding out the quartet, there was a particular sad beauty in the singing and staging of Purea Nei. This classic Maori lament about cleansing the spirit was written to address the growing suicide rate among Maori youth, and address the pain and grieving process. It left me wishing for surtitles to get a better taste of the songs’ words, but it might have broken the spirit of this piece.

• Until 27 August, 2:25pm