The rendition of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody by Hātea Kapa Haka was one of those goosebump moments. The group from Whangarei first sent shivers down the spine of the nation when they covered the Freddie Mercury hit in te reo Māori last year, but then they brought that viral video to life at Te Matatini Kapa Haka Festival.
The group worked alongside internet sensation William Waiirua to create the video to honour the band’s iconic frontman Freddie Mercury and celebrate the release of the Queen biopic. Hātea Kapa Haka head tutor Pauline Hopa said: "I have always loved the song Bohemian Rhapsody. But never in my life did I think that we would be part of something this big."
The group competed against 45 other teams, two of which were from Australia, at the country’s largest Kapa Haka competition. For the first time in 20 years, the big event was held in Wellington, and the capital embraced every bit of it. Wellington City Council even installed “haka lanterns” on pedestrian crossing lights, transforming the traditional walking figure into a silhouette of a wahine and a warrior performing the haka.
Ngā Tūmanako from Auckland took home their first-ever win with their moving performance, which centred on the revitalisation of te reo Māori. Te Piki Kōtuku o Ngāti Rongomai took out second place and Te Kapa Haka o Te Whānau-ā-Apanui placed third.
Oriini Kaipara is a long-standing performer for Ngā Tūmanako, but this year she chose to trade her spot on the stage for a seat in the haka translation team, Haka Translate. The service aims to help everyone understand and connect with the meaning behind the haka, even if they can’t speak te reo Māori.
“In my opinion, te reo Māori is the main reason behind Te Matatini and even though I'm translating the words into English, it's Māori language that remains at the forefront," said Kaipara. “It's only right that everyone should be able to take part in this, but as translators, we need to match the quality and depth of the compositions, some of which are intricate in terms of the tribal histories and treasured heritage that is being embodied."
This year's winners will be stoked to have home advantage next time, as plans for the 2021 Te Matatini are well underway and will take place at Auckland’s Eden Park Stadium.