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Interview: Anna Coddington Talks About New Album 'Te Whakamiha'

Interview: Anna Coddington Talks About New Album 'Te Whakamiha'

Interview by Samantha Cheong & Chris Cudby / Photo credit: Holly Burgess / Friday 28th June, 2024 8:50AM

Anna Coddington (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Te Arawa, Ngāti Whakaue) brightens our Friday with her fourth studio album Te Whakamiha, out today via Loop Recordings in sync with Aotearoa's Matariki long weekend celebrations of the Māori New Year. Sporting eight uplifting and energising waiata sung in both te reo and English, Coddington describes the reo rua / bilingual new record as her own take on Māori funk — playfully traversing genre boundaries, inspired in part by "Prince-inspired funk, neo-soul, R&B & disco vibes".

Winner of the 2022 Waiata Māori Music Award for Best Māori Album in Te Reo for her Mana-Wā-Hine EP, fellow luminaries lending their talents to Coddington's new long player include Troy Kingi, Julia Deans, Anika Moa, Hollie Smith (all backing vocals on multiple tracks), Jess Hansell (backing vocals on 'Call Your Mother') and Coddington's longtime band The Appreciations (whom Te Whakamiha refers to) — Mike Hall, Fen Ikner, and Jol Mulholland (who also produced the record). Written closely in collaboration with mātanga reo / kai whakamāori Ruth Smith, Coddington generously opened up about Te Whakamiha via the magic of the internet to UTR's Samantha Cheong and Chris Cudby. Listen below, watch the new video for 'Honey Back' featuring Troy Kingi shot / edited by Ikner, and read onwards...

Congratulations on the new album! You've talked about Te Whakamiha as being "made with a focus on enjoyment". What inspires your own distinct vision of Māori funk on the new record?

Tēnā koe i tō mihi mai :) I feel like even referring to it as Māori funk is part of the enjoyment. I mean, the album is definitely funky in parts but it’s also definitely not “funk music” if you define that with reference to James Brown and the like. But I did want to make a record people could dance to, get down to, make stank face to, etc. My first instrument was drums and I have a real thing for memorable, hooky basslines so the rhythm section can really make or break a song for me. Many of the songs I’ve felt really excited about over the last 5-10 years have been uptempo with a sick bassline. A lot of the songs on this one began with locking down a tempo and rhythm, then the bassline. I also have an amazing band, the Appreciations, so it felt fun to make a record they can really flex on. So yes, I wanted to make a funk album, but I also wanted it to engage with my longtime pop and indie sensibilities and I think it has landed somewhere great.

Jol Mulholland produced it and he is definitely an indie music guy, so it was interesting for both of us to explore ideas outside our comfort zone (and in some instances we went waaay outside our comfort zone and pulled back ha) and try to strike a balance between making music that's “funky” (which tbh is a pretty awful work) but avoids the tropes you’d readily associate with that word.

Do you view Te Whakamiha as continuing the kaupapa of your award-winning Mana-Wā-Hine EP, which featured te reo versions of waiata first featured on Beams?

I do. Linguistically, from a reo Māori reclamation perspective, while Mana-Wā-Hine was mostly Māori translations of existing songs, the next step was to write songs in te reo Māori, rather than just have them translated. So most of the songs here were cowritten with mātanga reo which was great for me. And even those which I wrote in English first then had Ruth (the mātanga reo for the album) translate, because they weren’t already released in reo Pākeha form there were no restrictions on the reo in terms of phrasing or anything. I herekore ake — they were more free to be rewritten to suit te reo, without strict reference to the English. And from a musical perspective it does feel like an evolution of the Beams tunes. There were some upbeat, great bassline numbers on there alongside the more emotional songs. The big change was just me wanting to sing about my feelings less and focus more on the ever important “vibe”. Though, to be fair, some feelings still made it in.

What was the collaboration process like with Troy Kingi on 'Honey Back'? The song feels like a meeting of your musical worlds.

Why thank you. I actually wrote that song about a friend who had been in a bad relationship and I was really trying to say, you know, don’t go back — "he’s a wasp" and all that. But then it changed into a duet idea, like I wanted to get a male perspective across and it became more a work of fiction. I liked the idea of him (now fictional him) apologising and kind of speaking to his trauma and acknowledging that he needs to work on himself. There is also a reference to Ranginui (the blue skies) so it touches on the idea that everyone has the seeds of greatness and goodness in them, even if they can’t grow them right now. So I sent it to Troy and asked if he would play the bad guy ha. Because I knew his voice would sound amazing on that bassline and he’s a characterful guy (actual actor!) so hoped he would be into it and he was. He is so generous with his creativity. It’s an inspiration to work with people who you think are too flash for you and then they just come on board and love, you know, making music. He brought a lot to it and I’m very grateful. Ngā mihi Troy.

Likewise, there are some powerhouse special guests involved — including backing vocalists Julia Deans, Anika Moa, Hollie Smith, Jess Hansell... — how did you decide on who to invite into the studio?

Well Jess was one of the writers on 'Call Your Mother' at a SongHubs quite a few years ago. So those vocals are from that original session. The others, basically I asked on the Coven chat (our mana wāhine muso group chat) and Anika, Julia and Hollie were the ones who were free so they came and did some bvs for me. So lucky. I would do it in a heartbeat for anyone on that chat too. They already know that.

What is the mātanga reo / kai whakamāori translation process like with Ruth Smith? Does new meaning ever emerge and surprise you through this process?

I idolise Ruth from a word nerd POV. She has a brilliant mind and it’s a perfect collaborator for my own. She thinks quick and has an endless supply of amazing kupu to contribute but was also great with me making changes to the translations - accepting them if they worked, correcting them if they didn’t and just not being too precious about it, which meant I wasn’t precious about anything either and it just felt easy. She contributed the word Kātuarehe for that song which was so perfect and was a springboard for the rest of the song. Some of the songs I explicitly said “don’t translate this word for word, go for the vibe and feel free to change it up”. Generally she nailed everything pretty quick and we worked closely so the meanings evolved.

Te Whakamiha roughly translates as the name of your longtime band The Appreciations — what do you appreciate about each of them?

Oh I love this question!

Mike (bass): reliable! Always on time, always knowing the tunes and nailing the bassline, funny, goes running on tour (which I love when I do it too but hate when I don’t because it makes me feel bad).

Jol (guitar, producer): so funny but verrry low key and dry so sometimes the gag doesn’t hit till a minute or so later. Incredible guitarist and producer, but what I actually love about his playing is how loose it is. Not in a bad timing way — I mean it's very expressive. He never plays the same song exactly the same. I love that energy.

Fen (drums): also funny and even better has a funny American accent. Amazing drummer! So important to me. But I feel like Fen’s drumming is specifically great for me. I can't explain why. It’s punchy in the right places, it’s expressive, it’s fun and he insisted on using his china cymbal on this album which made us all so happy.

Basically we are a band of jolly nerds. We go on tour and pretend we’re flatting and Mike keeps asking everyone for the WiFi code and growling them for not doing the dishes. Last gig we did out of town we stayed in a nice house and after the gig we drank beer and listened to '90s rock songs and talked about the production on them it was so geeky.

How do you balance your busy, highly successful musical life with the demands of being a law school student and a mum?

I appreciate that you have referred to my musical life as "highly successful". I don’t even know what that means anymore and I’m dubious about whether I fit within that but assuming I do... I just turn my attention to one thing and then the next. This album is coming out between semesters because I said to my label I wasn’t gonna have the capacity for it any other time. The album was made in holidays and days I had no classes. The kids are at school so I do stuff while they’re there. Same as anyone really. I think most people do a lot, they just don’t always get interviewed about it lol.

When / whereabouts are you performing next in celebration of Te Whakamiha?

At all the festivals who are going to book us (*sits back and waits for offers to roll in).

'Te Whakamiha' is out today via Loop Recordings — limited edition vinyl LP orders available HERE.


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