That cry from Warren Maxwell, where his head falls back into the light, his brow crumples, his top lip pulls up and his eyes sink into skin and skull. Out emerges a noise from hidden depths moving us to mourn lost lovers and contemplate the land that once stood beneath our feet. It conjures up the saying “Mā te wahine, mā te whenua, ka ngaro te tangata” It is for women and land that men perish and die.
Over ten years ago I saw Trinity Roots here in London. We were a different breed of boy then. It was unrelenting skank pulsing in an underground cavern. A crew of us had just done haka with a pumping energy that continued to flow on the dance floor. Ten years later its a more mellow feel at the Bush, an open chilled music hall with moody lighting and a cruisy home – as in Kiwi – crowd. With that vibe Trinity Roots opened with the familiar and then struck out with the new – songs from an about to be released album – but still with that uncluttered sound which quickly bares down to soul, a soul that captures Aotearoa and makes them one of our most loved bands.
But what is this soul? Is it nought but overwrought nostalgia that wears filtered glasses to hide the monotony, boredom and hardship of a long forgotten past? I muse. With closed eyes Trinity Roots’ harmonies had my mind racing back to another time when rhythm was not kept to beat timers. Lying in bed as a child hearing muffled laughter through walls blended with melodies of warm comfort as the aunties and uncles sang late into the night. Trying to replicate this sound as adolescents singing the same classics as our old people at our parties. And singing our hearts out while harmony jumping in our kapa haka group. This is where Trinity Roots’ music sends me. This is why its soul from home.
And when they played the anthem Home Land and Sea the crowd started to sing just like we were at one of those parties. I became lost in alto whilst sharing over enthused notes with English friends. A fitting climax nonetheless. In the silence following the applause, Warren Maxwell mumurs,”Aotearoa is not for sale!” Ten years ago this song captured what many felt when Maori rights to land were being taken through the Foreshore and Seabed Act. For others, it spoke of their oppositon to the sale of our land to overseas interests. “Aotearoa is not for sale!” he says, louder this time. Ten years later, a different time, different place…what does it mean for you?