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Music of New Zealand [  ]
Indigenous Māori music
Other influences Britain, Europe, Polynesia, Australia
Genres Classical · Hip hop · Jazz · Country · Rock · Indie · Reggae · Blues · Metal
Organisations RIANZ [1] · SOUNZ · CANZ
Awards "Tui" NZ Music Awards
Charts RIANZ official chart
Festivals Big Day Out · Parachute · Nambassa · Tahora · Rhythm & Vines
Media Radio with Pictures · Radio Hauraki · Concert FM
Notable songs Pokarekare Ana · Slice of Heaven · Ka Mate · Not Given Lightly · Six Months in a Leaky Boat
National anthem God Defend New Zealand

(also God Save the Queen)

The music of New Zealand is the expression of the culture of New Zealand. As the largest nation in Polynesia, New Zealand's music is influenced by the Indigenous Māori and immigrants from the Pacific region, though New Zealand's musical origins lie predominantly in British colonial history, with contributions from Europe and America. As the nation has grown and established its own culture, local artists have mixed these styles with local influences to create music that is uniquely New Zealand in style.

The most popular styles of the late twentieth century were rock and hip hop, both genres garnished with New Zealand's unique Pacific influences. By the twenty-first century, roots, reggae, dub and electronica were all popular with local artists. New Zealand has maintained a alternative scene for several decades.

Māori have also developed a popular music scene, and incorporated reggae, rock and roll and other influences: New Zealand reggae bands like Herbs, Katchafire and Fat Freddy's Drop are highly popular. The 1990s saw the rise of hip hop groups like Moana & the Moahunters and the Upper Hutt Posse, primarily based out of South Auckland (see below).

In the traditional styles, New Zealand's geographic isolation and cultural milieu perhaps contributed to the slow growth of formal traditions based on European classical music, however these styles have also gained broad recognition[citation needed].



Distanced from overseas cultural centres, the New Zealand rock scene began in earnest[1][2] during the 1960s, when the British Invasion reached the country's musicians. A number of garage bands were formed, all with a high-energy performing style. Though few became internationally (or even nationally) famous, they stirred into life a number of fertile local scenes, full of musicians and fans. Much of their material has been collected by John Baker for his Wild Things collections.

Perhaps the most well-known contribution by a New Zealander to the world of popular music is the enduring Rocky Horror Show musical, written by Richard O'Brien, and first performed on stage in London during 1973.

Back home, a more mainstream hard rock sound had developed in New Zealand by the early 1970s, exemplified by bands like Human Instinct with Billy T.K., Space Farm, Living Force, Dragon, and Hello Sailor.

New Zealand's size meant that many of the country's more prominent mainstream bands found their largest audiences in Australia. Of these, perhaps the most successful has been Split Enz, founded by Tim Finn and Phil Judd in the early 1970s. The addition of Tim's younger brother Neil after Judd's departure led to a more accessible style and several big hits. After the demise of Split Enz, Neil Finn went on to found the highly successful Crowded House.

In the mid-1990s, the Otara, Auckland group OMC, led by Pauly Fuemana, scored a worldwide hit with the song "How Bizarre," which to this day is noted for its beats-and-acoustic-guitar production. Locally, the single sold over 35,000 copies (3½ times platinum), a figure not exceeded in New Zealand as of 2008.

Following international trends, New Zealand's own independent rock scene grew increasingly popular throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Among the most active cities in modern New Zealand indie scene are Christchurch, Auckland and Dunedin. Important bands currently include Tiger Tones, The Shocking Pinks, Stomp Box, Pig Out, The Mint Chicks, The Brunettes and Soulseller.

Recently, NZ Comedy band Flight of the Conchords popularity has exploded, driving them to No. 1 in NZ and also giving them a massive US fan-base, making them immensely popular and famous.

Hip hop

The genesis of New Zealand hip hop began from such elements as the release of the 1979 US movie The Warriors, and the rise of the breakdancing craze, both of which emanated from New York City. Breakdancing was one of the five elements of the original hip hop culture. The others were graffiti, rapping, DJing and beatboxing.

Considered by most to be the first hip-hop record, The Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" had been an American hit in 1979 and was released in New Zealand a year later, where it stayed on the charts for some time.

Many of the first hip hop performers from the country, such as Dalvanius Prime, whose "Poi E" was a major hit, were Māori. "Poi E" had no rapping and was not pure hip hop. It was basically a novelty record intended as a soundtrack for dancing. Even so, it marked a shift from reggae and funk as the previously most favoured genre of Māori musicians.

At first apolitical fun-rhyming, many hip-hop raps developed a social conscience in the second half of the 1980s. Inspired by the example of US outfit Public Enemy, hip hop's new 'political' messages of persecution and racism resonated with many Māori musicians. The first entire album of locally-produced hip hop was Upper Hutt Posse's E Tu EP, from 1988. E Tu was partially in Māori and partially in English, and its lyrics were politically-charged.

The first major New Zealand hip hop hit was "Hip Hop Holiday" by 3 The Hard Way. Sampling the song "Dreadlock Holiday" by 10CC, it went to number one for several weeks in 1993 and was also an Australian hit. To date, it remains the biggest selling NZ hip hop single in New Zealand.

In the 1990s, New Zealand hip hop scene grew with the added input of Pacific Island musicians, creating a local variant style known as Urban Pasifika, a term first coined by producer Alan Jansson for the influential Proud collection in 1994, That album, featuring Sisters Underground and OMC, helped set the stage for the next decade of NZ hip hop. 'Protest' content was still present, but lyrical and musical emphasis had largely evolved into a 'sweet', chart-friendly sound. Artists such as Che Fu and, more recently, Nesian Mystik, and Scribe have carried the ideas and themes to new heights. In 2004, Scribe became the first New Zealand artist to achieve the double honour of simultaneously topping the New Zealand singles and album charts.

In 2005, Savage, another NZ hip hop artist, had back to back number one hits with Swing and Moonshine, the latter featuring a USA artist called Akon. Both of the songs stayed in the number one spot for eight weeks each.

Maori rap as used in New Zealand throughout the 1990s was looked down upon, unacknowledged and was allegedly a target of racism[citation needed]. Maori rap was a rarity on the radio, as a segregated form of music, national radios did not acknowledge the accomplishments of the music, and rarely played any songs. Maori music combines traditional vocal chants with and incorporates traditional elements of Maori culture and integrates it with traditional "American" based rap. The direct impact of the Black American culture is naturally adapted from break dancing to gang culture collectively into the Maori and Polynesian youths. In addition to European influences, the unique sound that Maori youths create identifies it originality. [3]

Hip hop went in a new direction in the twenty-first century when it mixed with electronica, reggae and dub music to create a sound known as Roots. The Roots scene had strong roots in Wellington.


New Zealand's alternative and independent music scene has been favourably regarded abroad despite frequent marginalization locally. As well as gaining international critical acclaim, many of New Zealand's alternative artists have been cited as influences by American groups such as Pavement, Yo La Tengo and Sonic Youth. A willingness to experiment, a keen sense of melody, and a DIY attitude are characteristic of New Zealand's independent artists. Geographical isolation and the reliance on inexpensive equipment are also frequently cited as influential factors.

Independent music in New Zealand began in the latter half of the 1970s, with the development of a local punk rock scene[4] . This scene spawned several bands of note, including The Scavengers, the Suburban Reptiles, Proud Scum and Nocturnal Projections. One of the most important New Zealand punk bands was The Enemy, formed by lo-fi pioneer Chris Knox. After a reshuffle of personnel, many of the band's songs were recorded over 1979–1980 as Toy Love. The same musicians formed the basis for later groups such as The Bats and Tall Dwarfs.

The first independent record labels arrived in the early 1980s, with Propeller Records and Ripper Records in Auckland. The labels' influential releases, such as AK79 and albums by The Screaming Meemees and Blam Blam Blam inspired a raft of other labels including, several years later, the Flying Nun label which was formed in Christchurch. The Clean, hailing from Dunedin, was the first major band to emerge from the Flying Nun roster. The South Island cities of Dunedin and Christchurch provided most of the first wave of Flying Nun's artists. During the early 1980s the label's distinctive jangle-pop sound was established by leading lights such as The Chills, The Verlaines, Sneaky Feelings, The Bats and The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience. Other prominent bands to emerge later via Flying Nun included The Puddle, The Headless Chickens, Straitjacket Fits, The 3Ds, Bailter Space, the Able Tasmans and The D4. Strangely, a revival of emo/punk-pop bands has started here, fronted by bands like Goodnight Nurse. As well as that, New Zealand has a developing punk rock scene. This includes bands like Kitsch, Cobra Khan, City Newton Bombers as well as ska bands such as The WBC and The Managers. Bands such as The Mint Chicks and The DHDFD's are in the more experimental, noisy, punk/pop vein.

As a response to Flying Nun's increasing commercialism in the 1990s, New Zealand's alternative pop tradition found a new home with independent labels such as IMD and Arclife in Dunedin, Failsafe Records and She'll Be Right Records in Christchurch, Capital Recordings, Stink Magnetic and Loop in Wellington and Arch Hill Recordings, Lil' Chief Records and Powertool Records in Auckland. The new alternative pop sound is typified by the likes of The Brunettes, Goldenhorse, The Phoenix Foundation, Lawrence Arabia and George and Queen. A Low Hum has had a big influence bringing new artists to the attention of alternative music fans in New Zealand putting on nationwide tours and a music festival, Camp A Low Hum, selling fanzine style booklets with free CDs, and releasing artists like The Enright House and Disasteradio on its label.

Independent music in New Zealand has mainly been supported by student radio stations such as bFM and RDU, and fanzines like Opprobium and Clinton. Internationally, New Zealand's alternative music has come to recognition via labels such as Homestead, Merge, Drunken Fish, and Father Yod.

Since the early 1980s, several small independent labels have been established in New Zealand, including Xpressway and Failsafe Records. Failsafe released a series of compilations that included many artists (Notably JPSE, Double Happys Nocturnal Projections, Loves Ugly Children) that later appeared on Flying Nun, Major Labels, or other larger indies. It continues on till today as the home of a long list of archival releases of historically important post punk bands, while still releasing material from alternative guitar rock on a smaller scale. Important Xpressway artists included This Kind Of Punishment, Alastair Galbraith, The Terminals, Peter Jefferies and The Dead C. All of these artists became part of an emerging international underground scene, and were typically more popular with foreign collectors than local enthusiasts.

Many more small independent labels were formed after Xpressway's demise in 1992, such as Bruce Russell's Corpus Hermeticum label, Campbell Kneale's Celebrate Psi Phenomenon label, Clayton 'CJA' Noone's Root Don Lonie for Cash, Club Bizarre and Crawlspace Records. These labels tended to focus on esoteric forms like free improv, noise, psych-rock, Industrial and experimental. Artists such as Thela, Omit, Witcyst, Armpit, Empirical, Dadamah, Flies Inside The Sun, Crude, Rahmane, Birchville Cat Motel, Pumice, Hieronymus Bosch (NZ) and Rosy Parlane are successful proponents of this new dynamic. In the late 1980s, Peter King established King Worldwide, which specialised in lathe-cut polycarbonate records. This operation specialised in small-run editions, and thus attracted numerous underground bands such as The Dead C, Birchville Cat Motel, Thela, Armpit and Pumice.

In 2008, The Trons, a fully automated robotic band was formed in New Zealand.[5]

Darkwave/ Gothic/ Industrial

New Zealand has maintained a small dark music scene which dates back to the 1970s and 1980s via iconoclastic bands such as Fetus Productions,The Skeptics, Hieronymus Bosch (NZ) & Winterland. Although such scenes boast longer and more famous histories in Europe, New Zealand Darkwave bands such as N.U.T.E, Dr Kevorkian & the Suicide Machine and The Mercy Cage enjoy international acclaim, despite remaining relatively unknown outside the scene at home.

The dark scene in New Zealand supports itself via various self-funded groups such as Circadian Rhythms and Club Bizarre who organised events to promote dark arts, music and fashion. In other words, the scene remains underground in the truest sense: most New Zealand dark releases are independent, self-funded or funded by the various support networks of artists and musicians, and following the closing of the last of the darkwave / gothic / industrial clubs in 2008, there are no longer regularly scheduled scene nights in any city in the country. Although in recent years Creative New Zealand (New Zealand's Arts Council) has showed support of some Darwave-experimental artists such as Jordan Reyne, the genre remains largely unacknowledged by the local music industry and many of the bands and musicians survive from overseas sales via internet and the wider reaching Darkwave networks


The earliest electronica in New Zealand came out of Auckland and Wellington in the early 1980s. Wellington's The Body Electric, formed out of the punk band, The Steroids, had a massive hit with Pulsing which, without airplay beyond student stations, spent four months in the national Top 50.

In Auckland there was a rush of activity, much of it centred around Trevor Reekie's labels, Reaction Records (which he A&Red) and Pagan Records. The compilation, We'll Do Our Best, on Propeller Records was an early sampler of this. The most prominent act from Auckland in this period was The Car Crash Set, who released several singles and a now sought after album for Reaction in the mid 1980s.

The explosion of the club scene in Auckland in the era led to a surge in the recording related recording activity, and in 1988 Propeller Records released New Zealand's first House record, Jam This Record, produced by James Pinker, Alan Jansson, Dave Bulog (ex Car Crash Set) and Simon Grigg.

There were sporadic recordings over the next few years, notably the work of Joost Langeveld, Angus McNaughton, DLT and others for labels such as Deepgrooves Entertainment whose compilation Deepgrooves, in 1991 was crucial in the development of the reggae infused downbeat of recent years.

At the same time a Future Jazz (the term was first coined in Auckland in the early 1990s) scene grew up in the urban inner cities centred, in Auckland, around the Cause Celebre nightclub and the work of Nathan Haines, the two notable early releases being Freebass Live At Cause Celebre and Haines' Shift Left.

The later nineties saw a raft of independent labels releasing electronica, including Chris Chetland's Kog Transmissions, Simon Flower's Nurture Records, Loop Recordings, Simon Grigg's huh!, and, importantly, Joost Langeveld's Reliable Records. Other artists, like Roger Perry, Soane, Greg Churchill, Stephen Hill and Rob Salmon have found success with offshore labels.

In recent times Salmonella Dub, Concord Dawn, Tiki Taane, Shapeshifter, Pitch Black, The Upbeats, Antiform, State of Mind, Bulletproof, Optimus Gryme have all had success.

Roots/reggae like Katchafire, Kora, The Black Seeds, Breaks Co-op or Trinity Roots, are very popular. Many of New Zealand's electronic artists are attempting, often successfully, to bridge the gap between diverse genres by including musical influences such as rock, jazz, soul and hip hop.

Folk music

Māori culture group at 1981 Nambassa festival.

Māori music

In summary, pre-European Māori singing was micro-tonal, with a repeated melodic line that did not stray far from a central note. Group singing was in unison or at the octave. Instrumental music was played on a variety of blown, struck and twirled instruments. Missionaries brought harmony, a wider compass and their instruments which were gradually adopted in new compositions. The action song (waiata-ā-ringa) was largely developed in the early twentieth century. Since colonisation, Māori music has developed in parallel and in interaction with styles from overseas, generating a rich brew of new styles.[6]

Pioneer folk music

The early European (Pākehā) settlers had folk music similar to, and shared with Australia's. The tradition is invigorated with several festivals, especially the annual Tahora gathering, and musicians like Mike Harding have won some fame for performing old and original New Zealand folks music.

Brass bands

Twilight bagpipe band practice, Napier.

New Zealand has a proud history of Brass Bands, which hold regular provincial contests, and often celebrate cultural events. The NZ National Band has earned international accolades.

Highland pipe bands

New Zealand is said to have more pipebands than Scotland; historical links are maintained by Caledonian Societies throughout the country. The nation is often reminded of its colonial heritage by the stirring sounds of bagpipes at military commemorations and parades.

Classical composers

Isolated geographically from the rest of the world, the formal traditions of European classical music took a long time to develop in New Zealand. Composers such as Alfred Hill were educated in Europe and brought late Romantic Music traditions to New Zealand. He attempted to graft them on to New Zealand themes with one notable success, the popular "Waiata Poi".

Douglas Lilburn, working predominantly in the third quarter of the 20th century, is often credited with being the first composer to 'speak' with a truly New Zealand voice and gain international recognition for it. He has had some influence on the direction of New Zealand music since then.

With significant acceleration New Zealanders have found their own style and place, with people such as Larry Pruden, David Farquhar, Jenny McLeod, Jack Body, Gillian Whitehead, Dorothy Buchanan, Anthony Ritchie, Ivan Zagni, Martin Lodge, Nigel Keay, Edwin Carr and Ross Harris leading the way.

Diverse musical currents in the world from the European avant-garde to American minimalism have influenced particular New Zealand composers to varying degrees. Increasingly, there are more cross-over composers fusing Pacific, Asian and European influences along with electronic instruments and techniques into a new sound, Gareth Farr, Phil Dadson and composer co-operative Plan9 among them. The latter provided much of the ambient music used in the The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

In 2004, Wellington composer John Psathas achieved the largest audience for New Zealand-composed music when his fanfares and other music were heard by billions at the opening and closing ceremonies of the Athens Olympiad. In the same year, he took the Tui Award for Best Classical Recording at the Vodafone NZ Music Awards and the SOUNZ Contemporary Award at the APRA Silver Scrolls.

There are several twelve-month Composer-in-Residence positions available in New Zealand, notably with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and at the University of Otago (Mozart Fellowship).

For more information, links and resources about NZ Composers and compositions, the SOUNZ Centre for New Zealand Music at has comprehensive services.

Orchestras and choirs

New Zealand has a number of world-class orchestras and choirs, notably the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO), the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (APO), the National Youth Orchestra (NYO), the New Zealand Youth Choir, and Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir.

There are also a number of semi-professional regional orchestras presenting their own concert series each year. These include the Vector Wellington Orchestra, the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and the Southern Sinfonia in Dunedin.

Chamber music and other ensembles

New Zealand has one full-time professional string quartet, the New Zealand String Quartet. Other string quartets include the Nevine String Quartet and the Jade String Quartet. There are several groups performing new music from local and overseas composers. These include the Karlheinz Company, Stroma, 175 East, Strike and Okta.

Chamber Music New Zealand is an organisation that promotes concerts throughout New Zealand providing a performing platform for local and international artists.


Prominent New Zealand musicians performing at home and abroad include Kiri Te Kanawa, Donald McIntyre, Simon O'Neill, Jonathan Lemalu, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Anna Leese, Malvina Major, Michael Houstoun, David Guerin, Hayley Westenra, Jeffrey Grice and John Chen. Those of earlier generations included Richard Farrell.

See also


  1. ^ Dix, John (1988). Stranded in Paradise: New Zealand Rock'n'roll 1955-88. Palmerston North, NZ: Paradise Publications. ISBN 0-14-301953-8 ISBN 0-473-00638-3.
  2. ^ Eggleton, David (2003). Ready to fly: The story of New Zealand rock music. Nelson, NZ: Craig Potton Publishing. ISBN 1-877333-06-9.
  3. ^ Mitchell, Tony. "Kia Kaha! (Be Strong!): Maori and Pacific Islander Hip-hop in Aotearoa-New Zealand." In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, ed. Tony Mitchell, 280-305. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
  4. ^ Churton, Wade Ronald (1999, 2001). Have You Checked The Children? Punk and Postpunk Music in New Zealand, 1977-1981 Christchurch, New Zealand: Put Your Foot Down Publishing. ISBN 0-473-06196-1
  5. ^ "Waikato robot band an internet hit". Fairfax New Zealand. 2008-06-24. Retrieved 2008-09-15. 
  6. ^ Linkels, Ad (2000). "The real music of paradise". In Broughton, S., & Ellingham, M. (eds.), World music, vol. 2: Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific, pp 218-229. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0.

External links

  • SOUNZ - Centre for New Zealand Music.
  • RIANZ - New Zealand's official weekly singles and albums chart.
  • CMNZ - Chamber Music New Zealand


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