Jerome Kavanagh Poutama, of Mokai Patea, Maniapoto, Kahungunu, Ngati Rangi, Awa Whanganui descent and also with ancestry from the Caomhanach clan (Ireland), is a Grammy award-winning Taonga Puoro specialist based in the Manawatu. In his youth, growing up on his tribal homelands and spending valuable time with his Kuia (grandmother) instilled within him the seeds of Taonga Puoro. After traveling the globe extensively and connecting with various traditional cultures, Jerome has dedicated himself to sharing Taonga Puoro with communities, especially as instruments of healing.
Jerome’s new album, Oro Atua, Tangaroa a Roto, was recently released during this NZ Music Month, featuring Taonga Puoro and rare field recordings. SOUNZ had the opportunity to catch up with Jerome and find out more about this stunning recording.
Jerome explains the title of the album:
In 2011 Jerome was a featured artist and lyricist on the Grammy award-winning album Calling All Dawns by Christopher Tin. This was certainly a highlight of his career, shares Jerome, but his work with partner Ruiha Turner, touring around their various marae sharing a mode of Rongoā Māori named “Oro Atua” and traveling to schools sharing a show called “Power to the Puoro” is also particularly fulfilling.
“Sharing our music at all our various marae with our people is about revitalizing the healing practices of our traditional music and putting Taonga Puoro back into the hands and hearts of our whanau. In schools it’s also about revitalizing our original music culture with the kids, celebrating similarities, honouring differences and building bridges of understanding for our next generations.”
Jerome describes his experience with playing the Taonga Puoro held in the British museum collection:
The album shares with the listener a rich tapestry of Taonga Puoro, field recordings and on the final track, electronics. The first track is perhaps the most intriguing on the album and we followed up on this one with Jerome to identify what some of the sounds used were.
Jerome gives a run-down of the sounds on the first track, “Tangaroa a roto”:
“Tangaroa a roto” is named after the last quarter of the Māori lunar calendar. Ultimately this track is in reference to the power of water and the beauty of our whale family. We used our recordings of a Nguru (whales tooth, nose flute) held at the British museum and live recordings of whales singing at Rangitaahua, also known as the Kermedic Islands to set the tone of ancient songs and connection from past to present.”
Jerome discusses the Waiata Pao used on the album:
August 2023 will see a new piece for Taonga Puoro and orchestra, a collaboration between Jerome and composer Salina Fisher. Jerome also talked about his plans for his continued sharing of this ancient art form:
“Our ancestors utilized these instruments as potent healing tools in ceremony and for entertainment – Taonga Puoro has been revived in a modern time in the reverse order. Firstly as a form of entertainment, then in ceremonies such as childbirth and as part of the Powhiri process at marae amongst other ceremonial uses. Now we are coming to an exciting time where many of our people are revitalizing the practice of utilizing them as healing tools again. We are using our Taonga Puoro in this way, to help our whanau deal with the generational trauma in relation to the negative effects and impact of colonization and racism that our people have faced for over 180 years.”