Music and working with young people have been part of award-winning hip-hop artist, teacher and social worker, Tipene Harmer’s life for as long as he can remember.
“I’m passionate about three things,” says Tipene (Ngāti Kahungunu). “People, from helping and walking alongside them to learning from them, music and my culture.”
Tipene joined Whitianga Social Services in January this year as a mentor who focuses on young people, family violence prevention, whānau resilience and tikanga Māori. On Monday last week, he launched a music production studio where young people on the Coromandel Peninsula will benefit from free weekly classes as part of a learning programme called Poutama.
Inside the studio, housed in a shipping container at Social Services, young adults 16 years and over will have the opportunity to learn how to write songs, create beats, and record, mix and blend their music, as well as produce and even possibly release their music publicly. “I’m not necessarily trying to turn kids into musicians, although this seems contradictory when you see the studio, but rather show them the therapeutic benefits of voicing their thoughts and learning about Māori history through a creative means,” says Tipene. “I consider this a journey in music and depending on where they are in their life journey, they can decide if they want to pursue a music career professionally.”
Through Tipene’s connections to Ngāti Hei, Mercury Bay Area School’s music teachers and Kura Wellbeing team, the Mercury Bay community, Coromandel Area School and Te Wharekura o Manaia, young people who are at “a crossroads in their lives where they make big decisions” and may benefit from the Poutama programme are referred to him.
Poutama, a Māori weaving pattern representing the stairway to high achievement, has a significant spiritual and educational meaning. The stepped pattern symbolises levels of attainment and advancement in someone’s growth, striving ever upwards and towards betterment.
Tipene considers music to be a key in guiding young people on this positive journey. He notes, however, that there are mentoring programmes available for those who wish to not have music incorporated in their life path. “Poutama is a cultural experience of self growth delivered through music and has a focus on attitude and behavioural change,” he says. “We will be working in small groups initially, to really spend some quality time with the few young adults that we currently have. We will build their skills and confidence to help facilitate Poutama to larger groups using the Tuakana Teina approach of those with more experience guiding those who are learning”.
Tipene has been a consistent presence on the New Zealand music scene since the overwhelming success of his breakthrough single, “West Side Hori”, which earned him his first APRA silver scroll nomination. Recently, he was nominated once again for an APRA silver scroll for “Turangawaewae”, the leading single of his second album, “Heritage Trail”, that was released in September 2021. “I didn’t know I wanted to be a musician when I was younger, I just knew it made me feel good,” he says.
Throughout his childhood growing up in Flaxmere, Hastings, a community heavily affected by gangs, violence, drugs and poverty, music acted as a tool to navigate, contextualise and put into perspective Tipene’s thoughts and feelings as a form of “self-counselling”. “By writing your story in a song, you only have a short window to say what you want to say, so while crafting your lyrics, you can let many things fall by the wayside and consequently get to or even discover the crux of the issue,” he says.
Being Māori is a major theme of Tipene’s music. “The beauty of creating music is you can capture something forever,” he says. “This is what our ancestors did with everything, having the vision for something to still be in use and of relevance within the next 100 years. I want to ‘capture’ and re-indigenise our culture through my music.”
Tipene was named an official Māori Music Ambassador in 2021. He moved to Whitianga from Auckland two years ago. His first album, “Tautoko”, meaning support, was based on a fundraiser CD for his late mother’s funeral that turned into a landmark album that established him as a professional artist. Heritage Trail is whakapapa (geneology) and tipuna (ancestor) driven, documenting the timeline of Māori in Aotearoa. “This album took my entire life to write,” he says. “Just like your heritage, it goes for an eternity.”
Tipene is at the moment completing a nationwide Heritage Trail tour. The tour was supposed to take place several months earlier, but was because of the Covid-19 pandemic postponed to this month, to coincide with New Zealand Music Month. The next stop is Auckland on Friday this week and on Saturday this week (28 May), Tipene will be on stage at The Whitianga Hotel. Joining him for his performance in Whitianga will be Hamilton hip-hop legends, 4 Corners, up-and-coming local rapper, Chance Haddon, and well-known and loved local musician, Vegas Brown.
It’s possible that Tipene will perform one or two songs from his yet to be released, and as yet unnamed, third album on Saturday. “To all those who have been asking me since moving to Whitianga about when I’ll be doing a proper show, here you go, it’s finally here,” he smiles.
Tickets for Tipene’s Heritage Trail tour are available at eventbrite.co.nz or at the door. The Whitianga concert will kick off at 9:00pm
Pictured is musician and mentor, Tipene Harmer, inside the recording studio set up in a
shipping container at Whitianga Social Services.